Shabbat Chaye Sarah
November 13-14, 2020
27 Cheshvan 5781
Life. Death. Kindness. Comfort. Marriage. Love. Death.
Parshat Chaye Sarah–The Life of Sarah begins by telling us she was 127 years old and then tells of her death. Sarah’s death occurs during a difficult time in the life of her family. Her husband Abraham has just returned from nearly sacrificing (at God’s command) their precious son Isaac. Father and son are estranged. One midrash, stories that fill in the gaps in the Torah’s text, suggests Sarah died upon learning of the near death of her son.
Shattered. Broken. Alone. Abraham mourns his wife, Sarah, and purchases a burial place. Isaac is not mentioned and the two never again speak. Where is he when his mother dies? How is he mourning? Abraham loves his son and seeks out a wife for him with the help of his servant Eliezer. As you may recall, he meets Rebekah at the well who passes the test of kindness, offering to water the camels in addition to providing for Eliezer.
Rebekah is also given a voice in this parsha—noteworthy because women’s voices are not dominant in the Torah. When invited to marry Isaac, she is asked if she is willing to leave her family. This leads us to the moving first encounter of Isaac and Rebekah.
“Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer-lahai-roi, for he was settled in the region of the Negeb.” [Gen 24:62]
וַיֵּצֵ֥א יִצְחָ֛ק לָשׂ֥וּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶ֖ה לִפְנ֣וֹת עָ֑רֶב וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּ֥ה גְמַלִּ֖ים בָּאִֽים׃
The Hebrew phrase here, ‘lasuach basadeh’–Isaac was in the field—-can be translated as Isaac was meditating in the field. Perhaps Isaac found comfort through meditation, an ancient Jewish practice. Mindfulness meditation, part of Jewish spirituality, is a tool practiced today and helps build resilience in challenging situations.
“And Isaac went out walking in the field toward evening and, looking up, he saw camels approaching. Raising her eyes, Rebekah saw Isaac. She alighted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field toward us?” And the servant said, “That is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.” [Gen 24:63-67]
Isaac saw the camels approaching—these are the same camels Rebekah offered to provide water to drink. Lifting water from the well requires physical strength, especially to provide enough water for camels. Perhaps this was an indicator he noticed the strength of his future bride. Rebekah ‘alighted from the camel’—the Hebrew word for alighted is literally fall. This strong woman fell off her camel. Was it love at first sight? She pulled her veil down.
At Jewish weddings, there is a custom of bedeken–to check to be sure the bride is the correct woman. While many refer to the story we’ll soon read about Jacob being tricked with Leah instead of Rachel under the chuppah, this story of Rebekah’s display of modesty and separating herself for her beloved is more romantic.
The scene concludes with marriage, comfort and love. Isaac, reeling from his near-death experience at the hand of his father, the estrangement from his father and the death of his mother, learning of the kindness of Rebekah and taking her as his wife. Then we are told he loved her—the first mention of love in marriage in the Torah.
And so it may be with us. We experience pain. We live life. We face death of loved ones. We seek comfort on our own and with others. We are drawn to those who show us kindness. We build loving relationships.
This is the life of Sarah—she lived 127 years old. And she died. And her husband mourned her.
May we live life fully—even to 127. And when loved ones die, may we honor their lives, find comfort in our mourning, and live life fully.
November 6-7, 2020
20 Cheshvan 5781
As we approach Shabbat after a very long week, I imagine our ancestor Abraham’s experience of waiting. In this parsha, Vayera, it begins with him sitting in the heat of the day, in his tent, recovering from his circumcision (as God commanded him at the end of last week’s portion). He waits, taking time to heal, and soon others come to visit him, bringing comfort. Three guests appear as three men though they are actually angels of God. Abraham, not expecting guests while convalescing, tells his wife Sarah to quickly prepare a meal for the guests.
Thus we are taught two mitzvot—at the very beginning of this portion: Bikur Holim-Visiting the Sick and Hachnasat Orchim–welcoming guests. To this day we recognize the power of these mitzvot and have navigated the challenge of engaging in them these past 8 months. Visits to the sick are often by FaceTime, Zoom or phone call. Or even an outdoor visit waving through the window. Welcoming guests has required creativity and caution—whether in outdoor distant visits or indoor on Zoom or FaceTime—-when we can virtually expand our tables as long as we like (without any extra dishes to clean or food to prepare).
The essence of these mitzvot is the power of presence. Being there for one another. At this time where we are in need of physical, emotional and spiritual connection as individuals, families, a community and a nation, may we show the power of our presence through online and safe-distance connections with one another. And may we, like our ancestor Abraham, find healing.
Shabbat brings welcome peace.
October 30-31, 2020
13 Cheshvan 5781
This Shabbat we read the third portion of the Torah, Lech L’cha.
“God said to Abram, “Go forth [lech-l’cha] from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing.”[Genesis 12:1-2]
Abram is told to ‘go forth’ or ‘lech l’cha.’ These two Hebrew words are repetitive for the first word ‘lech’ means to go forth. Why is there a second word, l’cha. Commentators suggest that it emphasizes Abram is urged to go forth for his own benefit—’for yourself’–or ‘to yourself’—to fulfill his potential. Abram set forth with faith on a journey uncertain of what the future would bring.
When are we urged to go forth? Who will join us on our journeys? Some accompany us by choice and some by circumstance. Sarai goes with her husband and encounters her own challenges along the way (she faces infertility, encourages Abram to have a child with Hagar, becomes jealous of Hagar, and has to pretend to be Abram’s sister instead of his wife to ensure safe passage on part of their journey—these Genesis portions are chock-full of drama! Delve into the text Genesis 12-17 at
This Shabbat before the election we are all on a journey. We have been called to engage in democracy by at least casting our ballots. What challenges have we faced collectively and individually these past months and years? How are we each responding to the call to ‘lech l’cha?’ May we all go forth to be a blessing.
I offer this prayer shared by my Rabbinical school classmate, Rabbi Dr. Andrea Weiss:
Friday, October 23-24, 2020
6 Cheshvan 5781
As we know from these past 7 months being at home with our pets, it can be challenging to be in class or at work when a cat walks across our computer screen, a dog barks, bird chirps or other animal calls for our attention. But, for all who have or had a pet, we know the joy they bring.
Services begin at 10 AM and we’ll focus on the animals in the first half hour of services so if your pets or children (or you) need to take a break, no worries. You’re welcome to join us for as much of the service as you like.
I look forward to sharing Shabbat with you.
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz
Friday, October 26, 2020
29 Tishrei 5781
This week we begin again. The Torah that is. After our flurry of Tishrei holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, we have completed the Torah reading cycle and return to the very beginning–Bereshit (Genesis). This Shabbat’s Torah portion includes the familiar stories (two versions actually) of Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, light and dark. The foundation of who we are as human beings is embedded in the blueprint of creation—as we learn about God creating us in God’s image (B’tzelem Elohim). The first six days was the work of Creation. And on the seventh day, God rested from work, blessing the day and making it holy.
I invite you to rest from your daily work and enter Shabbat this evening with our kehilah kedosha–our holy community—as together we sanctify time and space to celebrate Shabbat.
Friday, October 2-3, 2020
15 Tishri 5781
Tishri is a terrific month of holidays and tonight we are entering the Jewish thanksgiving holiday of Sukkot! While we are not able to gather together at temple to build, decorate and rejoice in our Sukkah this year, we CAN still take time to celebrate this Festival!
Join us for a Sukkot Shabbat Service tonight with a:
- Sukkot story-Tonight’s service will include a special Sukkot story instead of a sermon.
- Virtual guests-Ushpizin-It is traditional to welcome guests (Ushpizin) into the Sukkah. Please ‘bring’ a guest with you. During services we will ask why you invited them (historical/modern).
- Sukkot treats-This will be ‘bring your own Oneg’ and we invite you to make your own edible Sukkah to show at the end of services and then enjoy. Suggestions include graham cracker/chocolate/marshmallow; melon/berries/apple; carrots/celery/lettuce; pretzels/frosting/candy—have fun creating your own delicious sukkah!
- Learn how to make an Edible Sukkah Oneg
Edible Sukkah Oneg flyer CLICK HERE
- Sukkah-If you built a Sukkah at your home, please take a picture of your family celebrating in it and send the photo to us.
Before we enter Sukkot, I’d like to take a few moments to reflect on the High Holy Days. It was wonderful to welcome the New Year 5781 with you on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Thank you to everyone who participated in services and joined our sacred community turning Zoom into a holy space. I was honored to lead services with Cantorial Soloist Mira Weller, HUC-JIR 4th year rabbinic student in LA. I am also grateful to my Rabbinic organization, CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) for their Visual Tefilah slides. I’d like to thank a few individuals. Special recognition to Congregation Emeth President Michael Oshan for all of his support and the wonderful welcome videos he put together from the Freunds and Past Presidents. Thank you to Ritual Chair Mel Weisblatt for all of his help finding congregants to participate in the services. Thank you to Marcia Fishman and her sisters, Nancy and Bonnie, for organizing the High Holy Day gift bag distribution before Rosh Hashanah and to Marcia for her ongoing support as Temple Administrator Manager. Thank you to Charlene Rose, Temple Administrator, for her help communicating all of the High Holy Day information. And thank you to Congregation Emeth’s Jonah teller extraordinaire, Peter Mandel, for his fantastic video.
I look forward to celebrating Sukkot with you tonight. This is z’man simchateinu–the season of our rejoicing so let’s have fun in our virtual Sukkot together!
23 Elul 5780
The days of Elul are marching towards the New Year. Will we be ready? How will we prepare?
Each day brings new challenges and opportunities. In the show “Annie,” the song “Tomorrow” tries to offer a positive spin on a dark time. Yet the lyrics which say “the sun’ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun” certainly is something we wish was true as we look at skies that are far from blue.
This week’s Torah portion (a double portion) speaks about teshuva–repentance and turning to God. In Deuteronomy 30:2-3 we are told “and you will return to Adonai your God, and you and your children will listen to God’s voice with all your heart and soul…and God will take you back in love.” In the Talmud we read (Bavli Yoma 86a) “R. Levi said: Teshuvah is great, for it reaches to the Throne of Glory, as it says, Return Israel to Adonai your God (Hoshea 14:2).” In other words, R. Levi is saying that by engaging in teshuva we may also move closer to God.
As we contemplate where we are spiritually and physically, time to focus on teshuva is deeply significant. This weekend offers opportunities for reflection, prayer and safe distanced physical connection. Join us to welcome Shabbat on Friday at 7pm. On Saturday night we have an opportunity to delve into one of the major themes of the Holy Days—forgiveness. And on Sunday, we are holding a drive-thru High Holy Day gift bag pick-up from the parking lot. Please refer to Wednesday’s HaMadrich for all of the Zoom links and details.
Here are reflections I shared on themes from the High Holy Days as part of the Women’s Rabbinic Network Elul Reflections. CLICK HERE for youtube video.
September 4-5, 2020
16 Elul 5780
Shalom Congregation Emeth,
As Shabbat approaches, my heart is full and heavy, happy and aching all at once. There are the challenges and joys in the world and personal reflections for this time. Traveling during the pandemic has been difficult and I’ve heard from many of you how much you miss seeing family as well as going on vacation. I think now of additional travels as my youngest son leaves for college. We view travel through a new lens these past months. But we still do travel through our days even if we are not venturing far. The smoke from the fires made us appreciate the ability to walk or hike outside–to travel outdoors and not remain inside.
This month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah is a time of spiritual journeying—-leading us into the Holy Days which will include more introspection and Heshbon HaNefesh–an Accounting of our Souls. As I reflect on this time in the Jewish calendar, I also contemplate this new chapter for my family. It is a time of reflecting on my journey as a parent as well as my son’s journey from infancy to college student. My colleague Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg wrote a beautiful traveler’s prayer based on the Talmud (Brakhot 29b).
by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
A prayer for the journey
We could say it every day
When we first leave the soft warmth of our beds
And don’t know for sure if we’ll return at night.
When we get in the trains, planes and automobiles
And put our lives in the hands of many strangers
Or when we leave our homes for a day, a week, a month or more –
Will we return to a peaceful home? Untouched by fire, flood or crime?
How will our travels change us?
What gives us the courage to go through the door?
A prayer for the journey
For the journey we take in this fragile vessel of flesh.
A finite number of years and we will reach
The unknown where it all began.
Every life, every day, every hour is a journey.
In the travel is the discovery,
The wisdom, the joy.
Every life, every day, every hour is a journey.
In the travel is the reward,
The peace, the blessing.
I pray we approach our journey toward the new year, 5781, with openness to imagine the potential a new day and new year offers, even when our hearts ache with the pain of this past year. May our journeys also include sweetness. Though we are not traveling as we were before the pandemic, we each face life’s daily journey, physical and spiritual.
August 28, 2020
Dear Congregation Emeth Congregants and Friends,
Rosh Hashanah is three weeks away and this month of Elul is a time to begin preparing for the Jewish New Year. I offer you this poem for reflection.
All I am,
All I have,
All I’ll become,
Are present in this moment:
Warmth and breath,
Love and compassion,
Silence and celebration.
All gifts, present.
What then, God of all being,
What then of my choices?
What will I make of the space
Between this breath and the next?
Will I bring laughter and light,
Hope and faith,
Wonder and strength?
Will I stand in humble service
For all of my brothers and sisters?
Maker of heaven and earth,
Grant us the wisdom to choose lives of grace,
Of vision and understanding,
Seeing each moment as a choice
To bless our companions
With strength and wisdom,
With honor and respect.
Blessed are the gentle moments of grace.
— Alden Solovy, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings
(CCAR Press, 2019), p. 85.
How have you grown or changed in recent months? How are you still becoming?
It’s traditional to hear the shofar blast each morning of Elul. This is a spiritual wake up call for us to begin the work of Teshuva.
CLICK HERE for video
As the second week of Elul begins, I invite you to take a few moments to reflect on this passage and hear the sound of the shofar calling to you to do the work of Teshuva—turning/repentance.
August 14, 2020
This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Re’eh, begins with these verses in Deuteronomy 11:26-28:
“See, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. A blessing: if you obey Adonai your God’s instructions, which I offer you today. A curse: if you do not regard the instructions of Adonai your God but turn away from the directions I have shown you today and follow other gods who you do not really know.”
Blessing and Curses. These are two categories we can understand and even utilize as a lens through which we can evaluate these past 5 months of the pandemic. Blessings: As we have sheltered in place, we’ve learned the blessing of safety –from having a roof over our heads, food to eat, time to do projects at home we’ve always wanted to do (or maybe we learned we don’t really want to do them); and hopefully the blessing of health. Curses: some of us have experienced illness or death of loved ones-whether COVID-19 or other illnesses. The pandemic has highlighted deep challenges in society including racial injustice, unemployment, healthcare and education.
This Shabbat is the final one of the month of Av and next Friday we will welcome the month of Elul. Elul is the last month before the Jewish New Year. It is time when we focus on turning or Teshuva. I invite you to join me on a spiritual journey preparing for the High Holy Days, turning to the best version of ourselves as we turn toward God.
Elul Daily Video Reflections by Women’s Rabbinic Network [WRN], CLICK HERE
The Shofar Project with Institute for Jewish Spirituality [IJS], CLICK HERE