Re'eh -- Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

American naturalist-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked, "Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting."

Emerson’s 1836 essay, Nature, expresses the belief that everything in our world – even a drop of dew – is a microcosm of the universe. This transcendentalist notion is not foreign to Judaism, especially its more mystical streams. We open ourselves to such transcendence through the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes and, in so doing, daring to see beyond ourselves so that we can develop new relationships to all texts, even sacred texts of nature. It's all a question of how we see ourselves in relation to the text and its sacred inspiration.

So when Moses says to the Children of Israel, "See I place before you today a blessing and a curse," they enter an important stage of maturity in their covenantal relationship — that of responsibility. Seeing the consequences of our actions is a sign of growing responsibility. These are proclaimed on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal as the Israelites are crossing over into the Holy Land. In establishing a Temple, we made a place where the Divine will dwell in essence and Name. This will become the new central address for sacrifices, and in keeping with the overall theology of Deuteronomy, no offerings can be made to the divine outside this locale. Laws of tithing are discussed in detail, including how the tithe is given to the needy in certain years. Here, we encounter one of the first iterations of charity as an obligation devolving upon the Jew to aid those in need with a gift or loan. But all such loans are forgiven on the Sabbatical year and all indentured servants are freed after six years of service.

The theme of seeing concludes Parashat Re'eh. Listing the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecosts (Shavuot), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot) as times when the pilgrim goes to see and be seen before the Divine in the precincts of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the parsha demonstrates that encountering the Divine in our lives is indeed a "seeing into our nature" with fresh eyes. This "seeing" provides hope for such sacred encounters throughout our lives.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by mystical visions. It features a stylized eye with retinal ganglion cells and filaments of muscle radiating outward. Of his transcendent experiences, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "All mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me." His peer Walt Whitman described himself as part of a universal weave of "threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff." Rabbi Arthur Cohen writes of being pressed "to the limit where thought cannibalizes itself in despair, where knowing ceases, where the emptying of the self is undergone and the fullness of God may commence." Mystics, be they American transcendentalists, Hasids, or academics, are not lunatics; their practice is an enthusiastic response to the world as it is – radically interconnected, with each individual indivisible from everything else. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

This Shavuot: The Kabbalah of Ice Cream

Blog2_KabbalahOfIceCream_posterJoin fellow members of our Bay Area Jewish community for an illuminating night (and dawn!) of learning, rejoicing, and good eats on Tuesday, May 30, and Wednesday, May 31!

Start the evening with a community dinner and post-nosh learning at Congregation Chevra Thilim, then move on to Richmond District staple Toy Boat Dessert Café (for some sweet, edifying licks) before settling in at CBS for our Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night Torah study session established by Jewish mystics.

Check out the full schedule below and join us for some or all of what promises to be an edifying and magical night! Please note that all teaching portions of the evening are free and open to the public, but the community dinner requires a ticketed reservation.

Shavuot Stroll 5777

8 p.m. – Community dinner and davennen (Congregation Chevra Thilim)
If you plan to attend the dinner, please reserve your seats by clicking here.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children 5 and up, and free for children 4 and under.

9 p.m. – Our first taste of learning: Roadmap to Sinai, with Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi (Congregation Chevra Thilim)
10 p.m. – depart from Chevra Thilim

10:30 p.m. – The Kabbalah of Ice Cream (Take 2 scoops!), with Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi & Rabbi Aubrey Glazer (Toy Boat Dessert Cafe)
12 a.m. — depart from Toy Boat

12:30 a.m. — Tikkun Leil Shavuot, all-night study session with Jonathan Bayer, Henry Hollander, Michael Loebs, Rabbi Aubrey Glazer (Congregation Beth Sholom)

First session (12:30–1:30 a.m.)
Falling In Love Again: A Wedding At Sinai (Includes a discussion of David Moss ketubot)
Rabbi Glazer

Second session (1:30–2:30 a.m.)
The Torah in African-American Spirituals: The Many Migrations of the Story of God and the Jewish People
Jonathan Bayer and Henry Hollander in conversation
(w/ performance by Bayer of selected spirituals in the style of Reverend Gary Davis)

Third session (2:30–3:30 a.m.)
Talk by Michael Loebs (title/subject TBD)

Fourth session (3:30–5 a.m.)
The Fantastic Tales of Rabbi Bar Bar Hanna as told in the Talmud and illustrated by Canadian artist Aba Bayevsky
Henry Hollander & Rabbi Glazer
In the midst of an in-depth discussion about terms of sale for ships, the Talmud suddenly decides to blow our minds! Giants, big fish, huge snakes, vast dimensions, circus acts, miracles, and more.

5 a.m. — Shacharit davening, Gronowski Family Chapel (Congregation Beth Sholom)

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Please also join the CBS community for Shavuot services on Wednesday, May 31, and Thursday, June 1.

Wednesday, May 31
9 a.m. — Shavuot, 1st Day service
12 p.m. — Shavuot Lunch & Learn Kiddush, Book of Ruth
1:45 p.m. — Mincha Gedolah Shavuot*

*****

Thursday, June 1
9 a.m. — Shavuot, 2nd Day service (with Yizkor memorial service)
12 p.m. — Shavuot Lunch & Learn Kiddush, Book of Ruth
1:45 p.m. — Mincha Gedolah Shavuot*

Our normal, evening minyan service (6 p.m.) is replaced by this 1:45 p.m. service.

VeZot Ha'Berachah -- Deuteronomy 33:1 – 34:12

facebook_coverdesign_vezothaberachahPlease note that Parashat VeZot Ha'Berachah is read during the Simchat Torah service, which will take place on Tuesday, October 25. This Saturday, October 22, is Shabbat Sukkot, during which we read a selection from Parashat Ki Tissa.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) once remarked: "Zion is in ruins, Jerusalem lies in the dust. All week there is only hope of redemption. But when the Sabbath is entering the world, man is touched by a moment of actual redemption; as if for a moment the spirit of the Messiah moved over the face of the earth."

How is this redemption achieved? For Heschel, redemption takes place through time, not space. "Quality time" is what matters in our lives, and it is through the Jewish calendar that we "do Jewish," embodying Jewish life and identity.

It is precisely through the appointed times (or moadim) on the Jewish calendar that we are best able to define our Jewish lives. We do so by abiding in the sukkah and taking hold of the four species, as well as by participating in the thrice annual pilgrimage festivals to the Jerusalem Temple during Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and Booths (Sukkot).

And when we "Rejoice in the Torah" during Simchat Torah, we simultaneously conclude and begin anew the annual Torah-reading cycle. Firstly, we read the Torah section of Parashat VeZot Ha'Berachah, recounting the Mosaic blessing bestowed upon each of the twelve tribes of Israel before his death. Echoing Jacob's blessings to his twelve sons five generations earlier, Moses empowers each tribe with its individual role within the Israelite community.

What VeZot Ha'Berachah then relates is how Moses ascended Mount Nebo to its summit, taking a peek at the Promised Land without ever entering into it. Moses’ burial place to this day remains unknown and the Torah concludes by attesting that "never again did there arose a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew face to face...and in all the mighty hand and the great, awesome things which Moses did before the eyes of all Israel."

As we conclude the annual reading of the Torah, it is important to remember that every moment is a sacred encounter in the making when we truly value the sacral power of time.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork includes the symbols and colors of the two tribes of Israel that we know survive today (i.e., the tribes that became Jews). The colors and symbols are drawn from Bamidbar Rabbah, part of our rabbinic literature (midrashim). The stones of the choshen, or priestly breastplate, are depicted in white, black, and red here, and represent the Tribe of Levi. The lion depicted on a sky blue ground represents the Tribe of Judah. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Re'eh -- Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

Facebook_CoverDesign_ReehWhat does it mean to really "see"? To better appreciate "seeing" – for which Parashat Re’eh is named – let us consider the experiential dimension of a quiet state of mind. The practitioner of Zen meditation sometimes experiences an event known as kenshō, literally meaning "seeing nature" and understood as an awakening from our fundamental ignorance. Experiencing kenshō is not the same as achieving Nirvana, but it does grant one a glimpse of the "real" reality.

While Zen practitioners turn to Buddha, Jews turn to Moses, as both seekers are yearning for guidance about how best to "see." Judaism starts with the act of looking back, of seeing what has come before with fresh eyes. In so doing, we can develop new relationships to all texts, even our sacred tomes. Whether or not we succeed depends on how we see ourselves in relation to the text and its sacred inspiration. So when Moses says to the Children of Israel, "See I place before you today a blessing and a curse," they enter an important stage of maturity in their covenantal relationship — that of responsibility.

Seeing the consequences of our actions is a sign of growing responsibility. These are proclaimed on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal as the Israelites are crossing over into the Holy Land. In establishing a Temple, we made a place where the Divine will dwell in essence and Name. This will become the new central address for sacrifices, and in keeping with the overall theology of Deuteronomy, no offerings can be made to the divine outside this local. Laws of tithing are discussed in detail, including how the tithe is given to the needy in certain years. Here, we encounter one of the first iterations of charity as an obligation devolving upon the Jew to aid those in need with a gift or loan. But all such loans are forgiven on the Sabbatical year and all indentured servants are freed after six years of service.

The theme of seeing concludes Parashat Re'eh. Listing the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecosts (Shavuot), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot) as times when the pilgrim goes to see and be seen before the Divine in the precincts of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the parsha demonstrates that encountering the Divine in our lives is indeed a "seeing into our nature" with fresh eyes. This "seeing" provides hope for such sacred encounters throughout our lives.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract depiction of an advance guard of Israelites marching into the Promised Land. The forms of the soldiers are rendered so as to call to mind territorial maps – provisional, likely-contested borders sketched over the same plot of land. "For you are crossing the Jordan, to come to possess the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you, and you shall possess it and dwell in it." (Deuteronomy 11:31) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

5776 Shavuot Shul Crawl

CBS is delighted to again participate in the annual
SF SHAVUOT CALIFORNIA STREET SHUL CRAWL!

Wheat4_Website Join fellow members of our Bay Area Jewish community for an illuminating night (and dawn!) of learning, rejoicing, and good eats on Saturday, June 11, and Sunday, June 12.


As in years prior, participants will start the evening at Sherith Israel, then move on to the Jewish Community Center, and Congregation Emanu-El, before settling in at CBS to participate in a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night Torah study session established by Jewish mystics. This year, in addition to those traditional stops, Richmond District staple Toy Boat Dessert Cafe is also an important way station!

Check out the full schedule below and join us for some or all of what promises to be an edifying and magical night!

Sensual Torah 5776WheatVerticalGroup_Website4

8:30 p.m. – BODY: Body and Spice, havdalah with Cantor Marsha Attie and Rabbi Julie Saxe Taller (Congregation Sherith Israel)
9:30 p.m. – depart from Sherith Israel

10 p.m. – SAVORY: Cheese tasting with the Limburger Rebbe, with Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, supported by David Green and Rabbi Batshir Torchio (JCCSF)
11:00 p.m. — depart from JCCSF

11:30 p.m. – VISUAL: Beholding Torah, with Rabbi Carla Fenves and Rabbi Jason Rodich (Congregation Emanu-El)
12:15 a.m. — depart from Emanu-El

12:30 a.m. — SWEET: On the Kabbalah of Ice Cream, with Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi & Rabbi Aubrey Glazer (Toy Boat Dessert Cafe)
1:45 a.m. — depart Toy Boat

2 a.m. — MIND: Tikkun Leil Shavuot, all-night study session with Henry Hollander, Michael Loebs, Rabbi Aubrey Glazer (Congregation Beth Sholom)
First session: Healing Secret Faces So Divine in Zohar’s Idrah Rabbah for Shavuot, Rabbi Glazer (full description here)
Second session: Night Illuminations: Light and Darkness in the Bahir, Michael Loebs (full description here)
Third session: Prayers, Personal & Prescribed, Henry Hollander (full description here)
Fourth session: Dialogue on Dawn, Henry Hollander & Rabbi Glazer (full description here)

5:45 a.m. — Shacharit davening, Gronowski Family Chapel (Congregation Beth Sholom)

*****

Please also join the CBS community for Shavuot services on Sunday, June 12, and Monday, June 13.

Sunday, June 12
9 a.m. — Shavuot, 1st Day service
12 p.m. — Shavuot Lunch & Learn Kiddush, Book of Ruth
1:45 p.m. — Mincha Gedolah Shavuot*

*****

Monday, June 13
9 a.m. — Shavuot, 2nd Day service
12 p.m. — Shavuot Lunch & Learn Kiddush, Book of Ruth
1:45 p.m. — Mincha Gedolah Shavuot*

Our normal, evening minyan service (6 p.m.) is replaced by this 1:45 p.m. service.

Kezayit: Burn, Baby, Burn!

Facebook_LagBOmerFlamingArrowWhat's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

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Lag B'Omer is this Thursday, May 26 (18 Iyar). Although the holiday has been getting more press in recent years, it continues to go largely ignored by most Jewish Americans.

But maybe that's about to change? A concerted effort is being made by some contemporary Jewish leaders to make Lag B'Omer a centerpiece of the Jewish calendar, a holiday that secular Jews will appreciate as much as their religious brethren. Given that Lag B'Omer is traditionally observed by lighting bonfires, dancing, singing, and feasting, it should be an easy sell.

So why do we set things ablaze and party hardy on Lag B'Omer? What are we so colorfully celebrating? According to one content-aggregating website, "Lag Ba'Omer is a joyous holiday, but no one is sure what it celebrates."

There are explanations, however. Lag B'Omer translates as the "33rd [day] in the Omer." The Omer, as devoted Kezayit readers will surely recall, is the 49-day period between the second night of Pesach and Shavuot. While we previously explained why the 49 days of the Omer are counted and why this count has taken on mystical significance, we didn't mention that most of the period of the Omer is understood to be one of semi-mourning. Halachically observant Jews may not get a haircut, shave, listen to instrumental music, dance, or have weddings or parties during the Omer. The Talmud explains that the semi-mourning memorializes either a terrible plague that killed 24,000 of the great sage Rabbi Akiva's students or the murder of those same students by Roman soldiers during the years of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE). Modern rabbis have also suggested that the Omer should be seen as a time to remember the millions of Jews who were persecuted and killed during the Crusades, centuries of European pogroms, and the Shoah. Of course, anthropologists point out that many ancient cultures practiced "similar periods of restraint in the early spring to symbolize their concerns about the growth of their crops."

BonfireWhether it's an ancient rite of an agricultural people, a commemoration of a specifically Jewish experience, or some combination thereof, the Omer is meant to be a somber period. Lag B'Omer is the exception. All the restrictions of the mourning period are lifted; it's the one day during the Omer that we let it all hang out. Which brings us back to the holiday's potential renaissance.

As a recent article in J. makes clear, Lag B'Omer makes space for even the most secular of Jews to connect strongly with their Judaism. Joel Stanley, Director of Jewish Innovation at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center (OFJCC) in Palo Alto, saw an opportunity to draw a crowd with "live music, archery, dance, wilderness workshops, spontaneous chats about Kabbalah, activities for kids and barbecue"...as well as "towering fire sculptures." This year, the OFJCC is producing their first Burning Mensch celebration, a Lag B'Omer party designed to appeal to younger, more secular Jews, those of our tribe who generally eschew ritual or traditional spiritual experiences, but are eager to celebrate their Jewish heritage. Zack Bodner, Executive Director of the OFJCC, says Burning Mensch is part of an effort he dubs Judaism 3.0, "a vision for the future."

We salute such creative efforts, and hope that Burning Mensch is a grand success, both for the sake of its producers and sponsors (Kol Emeth, Jewish Study Network, and Milk + Honey) as well as for Jewish engagement, generally.

Kezayit: Counting the Omer

What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

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Gif_Omer1Another Pesach (Passover) has come and gone. The next Jewish holiday on the radar of many Jews is Rosh Hashanah, but even if we ignore the "minor" holidays and observances -- if, for example, you won't be fasting on the 17th of Tammuz (July 24) -- Shavuot is a big deal, and it's just over a month away!

Shavuot is such a big deal, in fact, that we have a countdown until it arrives...or maybe it's better called a "countup"? The 49-day period between the second night of Pesach and Shavuot is referred to as the omer, and it's a mitzvah (commandment) to count the days as they pass (Sefirat HaOmer).

So what's an omer, and why are we counting it? Way back in the days of the First Temple, an omer (a sheaf, or an ancient unit of measure) of barley was brought to the Temple as an offering to HaShem, an expression of gratitude for the harvest season. The Omer period begins with this barley offering, and the Torah dictates the aforementioned counting:

Gif_Omer8 Gif_Omer5You shall count from the eve of the second day of Pesach, when an omer of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks. The day after the seventh week of your counting will make fifty days, and you shall present a new meal offering to G-d (Leviticus 23:15-16).”

In the Torah, this counting seems connected only to the agricultural calendar, a way of reckoning when the wheat harvest should begin (i.e., when the count is completed, on Shavuot). Over time, however, Shavuot became associated with the giving of Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai. In fact, for contemporary Jews, Shavuot is more closely associated with divine revelation than with agricultural bounty.

Likewise, the counting of the Omer has also taken on metaphysical significance. Today, the Omer is interpreted as a bridge between Pesach and Shavuot. Writing for MyJewishLearning.com, Rabbi Jill Jacobs explains:

"While Passover celebrates the initial liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, Shavuot marks the culmination of the process of liberation, when the Jews became an autonomous community with their own laws and standards. Counting up to Shavuot reminds us of this process of moving from a slave mentality to a more liberated one."

The remarkable transformation from close-minded slaves to liberated souls prepared to receive Torah didn't come easy for our ancestors, and it doesn't come any easier for us. To help Jews carry out the spiritual and personal work of the Omer, Jewish mystics of the 16th century assigned the weeks and days of the Omer count to particular characteristics or emotions, drawing on their knowledge of Kabbalah and the sephirot of the Tree of Life. The Chabad website includes a detailed primer about how observant Jews should "examine and refine" each attribute or feeling as they move through the Omer season. It's worth exploring this approach to the Omer; it has mystical roots, but it's a remarkably practical self-improvement system and offers us a wonderful way to make the season meaningful, even profound.Gif_Omer15

The animated GIFs that accompany this post are highlights from graphic designer and artist Hillel Smith's GIF the Omer: Best Omer Ever project, "a fun, daily typographic Omer counter" that Smith has launched as part of his ongoing effort "to create new takes on traditional forms, melding ancient practices with a contemporary aesthetic."

We encourage you to visit GIF the Omer regularly to check out more of Smith's animations. (You can even opt to subscribe for daily email updates.) And, hey, if you decide to start working the Omer program, so much the better!

Image credits and captions:
All GIF artworks by Hillel Smith, 2016
From top:
Day 1 of the Omer
Day 8 of the Omer (Note: 8 = ח)
Day 5 of the Omer (Note: Numeral systems depicted include Arabic, Burmese, Braille, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Korean, Sundanese, and a bunch more.)
Day 15 of the Omer (Note: 15 = טו)

Kezayit (An Olive's Worth): A Proper Purim Greeting

Purim is almost here! It won't be long before we're masked, spieling, ring tossing, and bottoms upping! Mark your calendars for Sunday, March 12, 2017, when our PURIMPALOOZA: Community Purim Carnival & Spiel To Support CBS Educational Programs will take place!

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According to Wikipedia, Quora, and just about any website we could find, there are three traditional Purim salutations: "Chag Purim Sameach!" ("Happy Purim Festival/Holiday!" in Hebrew); "Freilichin Purim!" ("Happy Purim!" in Yiddish); and "Purim Allegre!" ("Happy Purim!" in Ladino). Indeed, when you've come to CBS Purim carnivals and megillah readings in past years, it's a sure thing you were welcomed with one of those greetings.

The thing of it is, "Chag Purim Sameach!" ain't exactly exact. Although the greeting is widely used and accepted, Purim isn't technically a festival, or chag. The only chagim we observe are the Yom Tovim, the six Biblically-mandated festivals: the first and seventh days of Pesach (Passover), the first day of Shavuot, both days of Rosh Hashanah, the first day of Sukkot, the first day of Shemini Atzeret, and Yom Kippur. In the Diaspora, the redundant, second-day iterations of some of these are also considered Yom Tovim or chagim. Purim is notably absent from the list. Somewhere along the line (l'dor va'dor -- generation to generation), however, the greeting that should be reserved for true chagim was also attached to Hanukkah and Purim.

In a recent discussion with Rabbi Glazer, your CBS Communications Coordinator learned of a more appropriate greeting for Purim, one you might consider using this year. "V’nahafokh hu!" ("We shall invert things!") Rabbi Glazer explained that this greeting, which is drawn from two verses in the megillah (Esther 9:1 and 9:22), is the most incisive option. It speaks to Purim's most significant theme, namely that "everything should be inverted in a cruel and broken world, leaving only compassion and random acts of selfless lovingkindness."

Rabbi Julia Andelman (of the Jewish Theological Seminary) breaks things down further in a 2014 article:

"Purim is a holiday of reversals—written into the megillah itself. Haman creates an elaborate ritual by which the king should honor him, but his enemy Mordechai is honored with that same ritual instead. The gallows Haman builds for Mordechai end up being the instrument of his own death. And the fate of a nation changes from doom to victory in the blink of an eye: 'And so, on the 13th day of the 12th month—that is, the month of Adar—when the king’s demand and decree were to be executed, the very day on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to get them in their power, v’nahafokh hu — the situation was reversed—and the Jews got their enemies in their power instead' (Esther 9:1). Reversals of fortune, narratives doubling back on themselves in opposing incarnations, are to be found everywhere in the Book of Esther; and so the theme of a holiday — v’nahafokh hu — is born. Cross-dressing, inebriation, public parodies of teachers and friends—all of these traditionally questionable or forbidden boundary crossings are sanctioned and even celebrated on this one day of the year when norms are freely reversed."

This year, let's turn things upside down and shake out what's broken or cruel. V’nahafokh hu!