Beraysheet -- Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

"Living God and Master of the Universe
on high and dwelling in eternity,
His name holy
and He is sublime
and created His world
out of three words: sefer, sfar, sippur – letter, limit, and tale.

So begins the ancient treatise, Sefer Yetzirah, which focuses on sound and its magical capacity for "making" and "world building." This book takes on the grammar of creation as expressed through the Hebrew language.

In acknowledging that all our beginnings are made through language, this year we have an opportunity to be more mindful of how we use language to create and destroy realities, through each letter, its limit, and the tale that we chose to tell. Sefer Yetzirah shares this mutual concern for "making" and "world building" that is at the core of Genesis.

The story of creation we read this week is a story of beginnings and creative inspiration, and all of this transpires within the creation that has already occurred – the divine Creator creates more than once. God as Creator forms the first human body from the unformed earth, blowing a living breath into it to form a soul. A help mate, Eve, is then formed for Adam. Moving from a state of radical loneliness to begin building community happens in relationship. But not all beginnings bode well or even last, and creation begins again with Noah, a righteous man alone in a corrupt world.

Are the end and the beginning of these episodes in the human condition "always there"? If so, what does this teach us about the way we wander and dwell in the here and now?

As we reflect upon how we use language to create and destroy realities, consider catching Israeli artist Victoria Hannah during her current residency at Magnes Museum when she performs her own rendition of 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in Sefer Yetzirah. Victoria draws inspiration from each Hebrew letter, which is said to symbolize or relate to a specific element in the universe and in the human body, each letter an exact signal, sound, and frequency in space. Stylistically, Hannah's creations span from traditional Jewish music to new music and hip-hop.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by Genesis 4:15: "...and the Lord placed a mark on Cain that no one who find him slay him." What exactly is the mark or brand of Cain? From ancient times through today, biblical scholars and rabbis debate what is meant by the Hebrew word ot, which is variously translated as "mark," "sign," "pledge," or "oath." Many ancient interpreters insisted this mark was meant literally, a symbol that consisted of fearsome animal horns. Here, we see such a sign painted on the wall of a desert cave along with a number of falling human forms. 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)


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.

Yair Harel visits CBS for Kabbalat Shabbat

BethSholom_JimenaEvent109-1024x589Join Israeli performance artist, musician, and community organizer, Yair Harel, for a special musical Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday evening, April 8.

Piyyutim (Hebrew liturgical poems) were chanted for centuries throughout the Diaspora. The poems have been adapted to different melodies, evolving into a form of Jewish "world music" in Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East. This singing tradition, a core component of synagogue practice, has also entered secular life in Israel through public performances, workshops, and performing arts festivals.

Yair is active in the revival and contemporary interpretation of this ancient art of liturgical Hebrew poetry, and he will perform and teach a selection of these piyyutim when he visits CBS.

If you'd like to listen to some piyyutim before Yair's visit, click here.

Image details: Meirav & Yair Harel at CBS in October 2014, photo by Christopher Orev Reiger