Vayakhel–Pekudei -- Exodus 35:1 – 40:38

The genius of every design by Steve Jobs (1955-2011) was an ability to understand what his community of users really wanted. Jobs was single-minded, and at times ruthless, in directing his designers to respond to community, to "have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

Community is founded upon shared values and built upon shared practice. The team of wise-hearted artisans who create the Tabernacle and its furnishings as detailed in the previous reading of Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) are truly inspired and devoted. The co-operative nature of this communal art project is inspiring on many levels. The instructions Moses conveys regarding the construction of the Tabernacle require materials in abundance. Once asked, the response is immediate and the materials arrive in abundance: from gold, silver, and copper, to blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, as well as goat hair, spun linen, animal skins, wood, olive oil, herbs, and precious stones. It is likely one of the only capital campaigns in Jewish history where its leader had to ask the members to stop giving!

"My favorite things in life don’t cost any money," Jobs’ once remarked. Jobs had clarity on the design of life, namely "that the most precious resource we all have it time." With that in mind, the strange opening of this week’s reading now falls into place — Moses' assembly of the Israelites begins with reiterating the importance of observing the Sabbath.

Making time sacred is the purpose of the Sabbath. The map of the soul’s journey, as Rabbi Lew (1945- 2009), z”l, taught, "...is the journey from isolation to a sense of our intimate connection to all being." That journey, unique to each soul, happens regularly in spiritual community. It is only when we are dedicated to a spiritual practice as central as the Sabbath that we can truly build communal institutions of lasting value.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is a depiction of a grape vine trained into the shape of menorah. The picture is inspired by theologian Rachel Adler's commentary on the Mishkan's menorah. She writes, "The menorah is not just any lamp, however. It is a giant lamp of unusual design.... We cannot sustain our presence at the original moment when a startled shepherd sees a terrible and wonderful sight: a tree on fire, unconsumed. We can only make a memory-tree to remind us of that moment, an artifice-tree of hammered gold, which we set afire, not abruptly, but with the choreography of ritual. Our reenactment distorts the story as it enriches it. The memory-tree is no humble wild thornbush, but the richly bearing fruit tree of the promised land, or the utterly stylized tree of modern ritual art." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Tetzaveh -- Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

Fashion designer Kenneth Cole once remarked, "You can change an outfit, you can outfit change, or both." How fitting that clothes are what truly outfit spiritual change in this week’s reading!

To outfit spiritual change, all priests or kohanim wear: (1) a full- length linen tunic [ketonet]; (2) linen breeches [michnasayim]; (3) a linen headdress, or turban [mitznefet]; and (4) a long, waist sash [avnet]. To manifest his spiritual shift, the High Priest also wears: (5) an apron of blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, with linen and gold thread [efod]; (6) a breastplate composed of 12 precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes [hoshen]; (7) a cloak of blue wool, adorned with gold bells and pomegranates on its hem [me’il]; and (8) a golden plate upon the forehead with the inscription, “Holy to God” [tzitz].

Initiation into the priesthood takes seven days for Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, Eleazar, and Itamar. Mirroring the seven day cycle of creation, here Torah is teaching us that every creative choice we make, even the most mundane, outfits us with the possibility of spiritual transformation.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the Holy of Holies as an abstract, contained force. In Parashat Tetzaveh, we learn the Israelite priests must be purified and specially adorned in order to safely approach the Holy of Holies. Comparing Aaron’s "holysuit" to a space suit, religious scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky (z”l) wrote, "we must have G-d’s holy presence to survive, but we must approach it only when it is contained in the precise manner G-d prescribes, and we come into the realm of holiness only in the holysuit G-d gives us. In the modern world, we have energy that can serve as a metaphor to model this divine power. Carefully contained, nuclear power can fuel our cities, but if the plant has cracks, it will escape and destroy, and if an individual approaches without a radiation suit, that person is dead." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Yom Kippur -- Leviticus 16:1 – 34

What is the real difference between love and compassion?

Judaism teaches us that love (ahavah) is the inner side of compassion (chesed). Or we could imagine it this way: chesed is "the Love Supreme" above that fuels and fires the ahavah of "the Love Below," that which is shared between human beings.

Or we can learn what it means to love a fellow Jew from two Russian peasants. Reb Moshe Leib Sassover, one of the greatest students of the Maggid of Mezeritch, teaches a remarkable tale about ahavah as the inner side of chesed. He writes:

Once I came to an inn, where two thoroughly drunk Russian peasants were sitting at a table, draining the last drops from a bottle of strong Ukrainian vodka. One of them, in a slurred, drunken drawl yelled to his friend: "Igor! Do you love me?"

Igor, somewhat surprised by the question answered: "Of course, Ivan, of course, I love you!"

"No, no," insisted Ivan, "Do you really love me, really?!"

Igor, now feeling a bit cornered, assured him:

"What do you think? I don’t love you? Of course I love you. You’re my best friend Ivan!"

"Oh, yes, yes?" countered Ivan. "If you really loved me...then why don’t you know what hurts me and the pain I have in my heart?"


It is this moment, when Ivan really sees and feels Igor’s pain in his heart, only then can we ascend from the place of ahavah to the higher point of chesed!

Love is about ME. Compassion is about WE.

This Yom Kippur, we are invited to shift from ME to WE. Let us ponder: What hurts do we want to heal? What worlds will we rebuild this Yom Kippur through compassion?

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: The illustration seen here is an updated version of the original, created in 5776 / 2016 to illustrate Rabbi Glazer's Parashat Acharei Mot Torah Byte. According to the Torah's description of the scapegoat ritual, which we read about on Yom Kippur, the Israelite priests use Azazel’s goat as a proxy, an animal laden with the sins of the community and then led into the remote desert and set free, presumably carrying the people's sins to some distant place. But that p'shat (straightforward) interpretation makes it all seem too easy. Atonement doesn't happen that way. Rather, the goat is released, but roams unseen in the wilds of our psyche, informing our actions in the world until we have courage enough to confront our missteps and failings. Past deeds, for good or for ill, are not erased by primitive magic. The scapegoat’s eyes are always on us, and we are not called upon to be perfect (nor to deny our imperfect pasts), but instead to strive to better ourselves and to make the world better through action in it. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Israel Mission Remembrance (II)

From December 22, 2016 – January 2, 2017, almost 30 members of the CBS community traveled to Israel as part of the CBS/Kol Shofar Intergenerational Communal Family Mission. The trip itinerary was thoughtfully designed by Rabbis Aubrey Glazer and Susan Leider (Kol Shofar), and we've heard from many participants about how extraordinary and memorable an experience they had.

Today, we continue to share participant remembrances with a wonderful report from Lu and Norman Zilber on full, inspiring days in Jerusalem. If you read these contributions and wish to join a future congregational mission to Eretz Yisrael, please let us know.


Facebook_LuZilberPhoto1_JerusalemJerusalem shel matah, Jerusalem shel malah. Jerusalem of the earth, Jerusalem of the spirit. Today, we saw both.

When King Herod (the paranoid) rebuilt the Temple, he first built a platform with arches and a buttressing wall that leans inward to prevent the arches from expanding. All four of these outer walls are standing today, even after 2000 years. The westernmost one was closest to the spot where the Holy of Holies was located, so that’s the one we pray at today. The walls are comprised of gigantic stones weighing 400 tons each. How did they get them in place? They were rolled down from the northern side, which was the highest point.

We visited the Western Wall and said a Shehecheyanu. We then descended below to see Herod’s construction. We walked for over four hours today and are pooped, but Shabbat is approaching, so we meet our group in 15 minutes to walk to shul.

Our guide is fantastic. He is a treasure trove of history (which he calls our collective memory), architecture, and politics. For example, today’s Arab Muslims do not recognize the Jews' presence in Jerusalem because in fact they have no collective memory of our being there.

We climbed up on the roof of the city to see the Muslim Dome of the Rock, built circa 700 CE, the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque with its dome, and lo and behold, the Jews rebuilt the grand synagoge in their quarter with, you guessed it, a dome! Politics.

Norm’s two cents on Jerusalem

To leave the old city from the roof, we walked through a section that was a warren of streets with one room shops on top of each other.

It looked exactly like Istanbul, down to the packets of saffron and other exotic spices. Merchandise here caters to three religions. It's startling to see tallesim (or tallitot) hanging above wooden crèches (Nativity scenes).

Leyning Torah in Eretz Yisrael

We walked over a mile to the Masorti congregation where they generously gave our group a warm welcome and three aliyot. Our rabbi's niece and daughter read the first and second aliyot and I did the third (about Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers). My nervousness was dispelled by the crying babies and chattering congregants.

There was a couple about to get married and the congregation celebrated mightily. Because of this couple, there was a lovely kiddush following services. The food was better than the hotel's!

It's always a pleasure to attend services in another country. The traditions and melodies may differ a bit, but you always feel you belong and most people welcome us. We are having a restful Shabbat afternoon since tomorrow's schedule is another heavy day.

We visited (and had lunch at) the Mahane Yehuda Market, which reminded us of Istanbul, but on a smaller scale. Loads of vendors selling nuts, baklava, olives, halvah, pastries (no ruggelach, but heaps of various sufganiyot donuts), and spices, along with fish mongers and fruit and vegetable stands. We grabbed some delicious fish and chips, and shared a sufganiyah filled with caramel (yum!). We bought a selection of baklava and some hazel nuts and almonds. The baklava is much less sweet than what you find in the US and is chock-full of ground pistachios. We then walked to the "time elevator," a large screen film experience (your seat moves like a roller coaster) retelling the story of Jerusalem from the time of King David. Its all done in 30 minutes and is a bit hokey, but the kids thought it was “amazing."

Our bus then took us to a promenade above the city at sunset to get a view of the "City of Gold." Every couple of minutes, the view changed and got more and more beautiful.

- Lu Zilber

Acharei Mot -- Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30

CoverDesign_AchareiMot"After the ecstasy, the laundry!"

This insight by renowned author and teacher of meditation, Jack Kornfield, co-founder of Spirit Rock in Woodacre, California, encapsulates the challenge of daily spiritual practice. In his bestselling book of the same title, Kornfield offers a uniquely intimate understanding of how the modern spiritual journey unfolds — and most importantly, how we can prepare our hearts for awakening. Kornfield argues that the enlightened heart navigates the real world of family relationships, emotional pain, earning a living, sickness, loss, and death.

Commentators have long been puzzled by the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. Were these two brothers and young Turk priests focused on ecstatic religious experience to a fault? The ecstatic enigma first seen in Shemini (Leviticus 9:1–11:47) here returns to the sobering lesson behind this episode. Perhaps Nadav and Avihu offered a "strange fire" at an unscheduled time and were punished for transgressing the law of the sancta. Or perhaps their spiritual merits exceed even those of Moses and Aaron? This latter possibility is embraced by later Hasidic commentators, who locate in Nadav and Avihu echoes of their own intense pursuits of ecstasy within religious practice. As Kornfield sagely warns, however, sometimes such ecstasy comes at a price.

And the question remains: once the peak experience of ecstasy has been tasted, how does one remain living in the real world -- the one with our laundry? No matter how high the peak experience, we Jews are tasked with living in the world, even if not of it. The expectation of the Tzaddik in Judaism (just like that of the Bodhisattva in Buddhism) is to return from a state of enlightenment to share that light with others.

Understood from the Hasidic perspective, the fatal flaw of these two remarkable spiritual seekers, Nadav and Avihu, is their choice to withdraw from rather than engage in the real world, to return with the fruits of their peak spiritual experiences. The only person authorized entry into the Holy of Holies and grounded enough to process the experience is the High Priest, and even he may only enter once a year to offer the sacred incense of ketoret.

Another aspect of atonement is described through the casting of lots over two goats so as to determine which to serve as a divine offering and which to designate for sins (the scapegoat) and send as an offering to Azazel in the wilderness. How fitting then that this reading is reserved for the High Holiday of Yom Kippur, serving as a perennial reminder of this challenge of grounding our peak, ecstatic experiences into a daily living of our spiritual lives that includes doing the laundry!

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by the scapegoat ritual. Azazel's goat is led into the remote desert and set free, roaming unseen in the wilds of our psyche and burdened with our missteps and failings. Past deeds, for good or for ill, are not erased by primitive magic; even ignored or forgotten, they inform our actions in the present. The scapegoat's eyes are always on us, and we are not called upon to be perfect (nor to deny our imperfect pasts), but instead to strive to better ourselves and to make the world better through action in it. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayakhel -- Exodus 35:1-38:20

CoverDesign_VayakhelCharles (1907–78) and Ray Eames (1912–88) gave shape to America's twentieth century. Their lives and work represent the nation's defining movements: the West Coast's coming-of-age, the economy's shift from making goods to producing information, and the global expansion of American culture.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Charles Eames grew up in America's industrial heartland. As a young man, he worked for engineers and manufacturers, anticipating his lifelong interest in mechanics and the complex working of things. Ray Kaiser, born in Sacramento, California, demonstrated her fascination with the abstract qualities of ordinary objects early on. She spent her formative years in the orbit of New York's modern art movements and participated in the first wave of American-born abstract artists. The genius of every Eames design was summed up by Charles as follows: “The details are not the details. They make the design.” Eames designs took pride in contemplating the intricacy of all details and how they inter-relate to a larger whole.

That "larger whole" can also be community. Community is founded upon shared values and built upon shared practice. The team of wise-hearted artisans who create the Tabernacle and its furnishings as detailed in the previous reading of Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) are truly inspired and devoted. The co-operative nature of this communal art project is inspiring on many levels. The instructions Moses conveys regarding the construction of the Tabernacle require materials in abundance. Once asked, the response is immediate and the materials arrive in abundance: from gold, silver, and copper, to blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, as well as goat hair, spun linen, animal skins, wood, olive oil, herbs, and precious stones. It is likely one of the only capital campaigns in Jewish history where its leader had to ask the members to stop giving!

The strange opening of this week’s reading now falls into place — Moses' assembly of the Israelites begins with reiterating the importance of observing the Sabbath. Making time sacred is the purpose of the Sabbath. The map of the soul’s journey, as Rabbi Lew (1945- 2009), z”l, taught, “…is the journey from isolation to a sense of our intimate connection to all being.” That journey, unique to each soul, happens regularly in spiritual community. It is only when we are dedicated to a spiritual practice as central as the Sabbath that we can truly build communal institutions of lasting value.

Just as the Eameses embraced their era's visionary concept of modern design as an agent of social change, so too might we elevate our spiritual practice as the highest agenda, bringing together our boundless passions and talents so we might overlap with our interests with those of our place in America and Israel.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note from Christopher Orev: This week's illustration shows the basic layout of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) within its constructed courtyard. Instead of a rectangle denoting the location of the Tent of Meeting, the silhouette of an Eames chair appears, a nod to Rabbi Glazer's Torah Byte. Additionally, the simple external wall of the Mishkan's courtyard here appears as the interior lines of a Necker Cube, an optical illusion created by Swiss crystallographer Louis Necker. I regard the Necker Cube as a symbol of life's push-pull ambivalence and the impossibility of ever perceiving capital-T Truth. It is, therefore, a reminder to walk with wonder and humility -- a fitting way to approach the Holy of Holies. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.