Ki Tavo -- Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

How do you express your gratitude? With words? With a thank-you card?

John F. Kennedy once suggested that "as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

A robust "attitude of gratitude" requires an act that acknowledges a benefactor’s benevolence and communicates one's grateful feelings. This is part of what Moses is teaching the Children of Israel through his own song in Deuteronomy; he instructs his people on how to cultivate the proper attitude for entering the Holy Land – after all, it is being given as an eternal gift. In settling and cultivating the land, the ritual of offering first ripened fruits or bikkurim at the Jerusalem Temple is a key moment in the agrarian lifecycle – here is a chance to proclaim one’s gratitude in community. Gratitude is often learned through our relation to others; thus tithing to the Levites and the needy are opportunities to cultivate gratitude. Sometimes we must see need in our midst to really appreciate the abundant blessings of our lives.

There is follow up here to the episode of blessings and curses that began its articulation in last week’s reading. Moses comments on the development of the Israelites since their birth as a nation; although their sense of peoplehood and commitment has evolved, they have not yet attained the maturity exemplified by "a mind to understand, or eyes to see or ears to hear." (29:3) In other words, aging does not always lead to emotional maturation, and this desert generation is still engaged in an ongoing process of "growing up" amidst innumerable challenges on the journey thus far.

To live by gratitude is our greatest challenge and dearest hope.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract depiction of Parashat Ki Tavo's dark and despotic venom. The parsha includes threats aplenty and bleak visions of the future that will befall the Israelites should they not "fulfill all [God’s] commandments and statutes." (Deuteronomy 28:15) Here, the venom dances across the picture like ink in water. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayikra – Leviticus 1:1-5:26

Facebook_CoverDesign_ParashatVayikraIt was recently reported that some Bible teachers at a Californian Christian seminary cited the lack of recycling bins on campus as a pure expression of their faith – namely, that by using up resources as quickly as possible, they were hastening the coming of the Lord and the New Creation. With the rise of Jewish start-ups like Urban Adamah and Wilderness Torah, it appears as though a swath of the Bay Area Jewish community is taking a very different tack. How can such diverse reading communities justify their reading of the Hebrew Bible as authentic?

Ellen Davis argued in her agrarian reading of the Bible, that "when the biblical codes are reread in light of the contemporary agrarian writers, it is evident that Torah is setting human life in the larger context that Aldo Leopold once termed 'the land community,' arguing that we may understand our situation differently, and more realistically by extending the boundaries of ethical consideration 'to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land'."

That is the challenge being posed to us as we enter into the Book of Leviticus [Vayikra]. It describes in great details the laws of offerings, whether meal or animal, which include: (1) Ascent offering [‘olah] — wholly raised up in ascent to the divine by fire atop the altar; (2) Meal offering [minha] — prepared of fine flour, olive oil, and frankincense; (3) Peace offering [shelamim] — animal burned on the altar, with parts given to the priest and other meat eaten by the one bringing the offering; (4) Sin offering [hatat] — brought to atone for transgressions committed in error by the high priest, the entire community, the king, or any Israelite; (5) Guilt offering [asham] — brought by one who has misappropriated property of the sanctuary or is in doubt of transgression.

The namesake of this third book of the Pentateuch is a calling to extend the boundaries of ethical consideration to all sentient beings as a blessing.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week’s illustration shows the skull of a bull – an ascent offering, or ‘olah. Parashat Vayikra includes detailed laws regarding cattle sacrifices. The Hebrew word for a sacrificial offering is korban, the root of which means "to be close to someone/thing." Most contemporary readers of the Tanakh are removed from the act of slaughter, making it difficult for them to appreciate that the killing and burning of korbanot were not merely (brutal) means of atonement; they were essential parts of a sensual, celebratory communion with the Divine (that concluded, appropriately, with a meal). Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

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.

Ki Tavo -- Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

facebook_coverdesign_kitavoHow do you express your gratitude? With words? With a thank-you card?

A robust "attitude of gratitude" requires an act that acknowledges a benefactor’s benevolence and communicates one's grateful feelings. This is part of what Moses is teaching the Children of Israel through his own song in Deuteronomy; he instructs his people on how to cultivate the proper attitude for entering the Holy Land – after all, it is being given as an eternal gift. In settling and cultivating the land, the ritual of offering first ripened fruits or bikkurim at the Jerusalem Temple is a key moment in the agrarian lifecycle – here is a chance to proclaim one’s gratitude in community. Gratitude is often learned through our relation to others; thus tithing to the Levites and the needy are opportunities to cultivate gratitude. Sometimes we must see need in our midst to really appreciate the abundant blessings of our lives.

There is follow up here to the episode of blessings and curses that began its articulation in last week’s reading. Moses comments on the development of the Israelites since their birth as a nation; although their sense of peoplehood and commitment has evolved, they have not yet attained the maturity exemplified by "a mind to understand, or eyes to see or ears to hear." (29:3) In other words, aging does not always lead to emotional maturation, and this desert generation is still engaged in an ongoing process of "growing up" amidst innumerable challenges on the journey thus far.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork features an opened pomegranate, one of the seven species brought to the Temple for the bikkurim offering."And it will be, when you come into the land which the Lord, your God, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you will bring from your land, which the Lord, your God, is giving you." (Deuteronomy 26:1–2) Because the pomegranate is also associated with Rosh Hashanah, it seemed only appropriate to feature it now. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Special Message From Rabbi Glazer

Orlando_CBSLogoDear CBS Communal Family,

At the core of Judaism is our ongoing pilgrimage to be enlightened by the divine visage. As the Psalmist yearns: "To dwell in your house all the days of my life, to behold your glowing face." (Psalm 27:4).

This Shavuot, as we were in the process of this very pilgrimage through prayer and learning, tragedy struck at Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando. As Jews, we are commanded constantly to seek the glowing face of the other, and in so doing, to rediscover the divine image through which each of us is created. Therefore, the heinous murder of each and every LGBTQI community member this past weekend was a direct violation of the commandment. When that sacred relation is violated, the divine name imprinted on the face of the other is also desecrated.

Our community is grieving, with a deep sense of loss for those directly impacted by the massacre in Orlando, and CBS sends blessings of healing and hope. Let us strive to restore the sense of safety that we have all -- especially LGBTQI leaders! -- worked so hard to achieve over the past several decades, beginning in sacred spaces and moving out into the public sphere for the LGBTQI Community.

A Wider Bridge is holding a program tomorrow night at 7 pm at the Oasis, featuring a brief performance by the Jerusalem-based dance company, Catamon, followed by some discussion with the dancers and a brief memorial for Orlando. Catamon understands its ongoing obligation is to continue dancing with joy in the face of tragedy and tears.

What can each of us do? Among other things, we can respond to this heinous desecration of the divine image with compassion and caring in the following ways:

1. Give blood at your local blood bank. In the event of a tragic emergency like the Pulse attack, it’s the blood already on the shelves that can help save lives.

2. Support A Wider Bridge by donating.

3. Attend the vigil tomorrow evening (with Catamon) **

4. Join the local LGBTQI community through A Wider Bridge and its allies in Jerusalem in their Orlando vigils.


** CBS is invited to join this vigil and dance program in solidarity. The suggested admission fee of $18 is being waived by Wider Bridge in light of the Orlando massacre and the need for the community to gather. Please visit the event's Facebook page for program details.

Blessings of hope,
Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Directing the Heart for Hanukkah

LeadAs you gather with family and friends these eight nights of Hanukkah, I would like to share with you a wonderful practice that may deepen our experience of the holiday. Opportunities for blessing surround us at all times; they are liminal moments. How can the joyous act of lighting a hanukkiah be transformed into a profound, meditative experience? Meditation is about awareness, and awareness hinges upon intention. This guide is about harnessing intention to open a deeper awareness of all the wondrous experiences that take place around you during the ritual lighting of the hanukkiah.

This practice was inspired “The Seven Seekers,” a story by great Hasidic master, Reb Nahman of Bratzlav. The practice of directing the heart is drawn from this story of a wedding feast that lasts seven days. During each day of the feast, one beggar shares a blessing with the bride and groom who are married in the darkness of the forest. Every time we light another candle on the hanukkiah, we have the capacity to draw forth another spark of blessing. The beggars' gifts reveal potential that was hidden in plain sight. With each candle, these gifts are illuminated as blessings, made lucid by the light of the hanukkiah.

1st Candle: Blessing of long life
1stNight The gift of the Blind Seeker: To see beyond a blink —
You think I am blind. In fact, I am not blind at all, but to me the time of the whole world is not worth a moment’s fleeting glance. I am very old and still very young: despite my great age, I have not even begun to live.

Blindness is in fact acuity of vision so great that one does not perceive the details of mundane existence. Rather, one learns to see everything from the perspective of eternity. The duration of time is not merely measured by years, months, and hours; time matters in our lives in terms of the content and the significance of events that fill it. Consider one extraordinary moment of touching eternal time that you have experienced this year and how to carry forward that awareness into life. This is the gift of blessing being offered in this candle.

2nd Candle: Blessing of good life
The gift of the Deaf Seeker: To hear beyond need —
You think that I am deaf. In fact, I am not, but to me the whole world is worth nothing, so why should I listen to its cries of want? All the sounds in the world are brought forth by want; everyone cries for what s/he lacks. I, however, live a good life and lack nothing, and so these wants are not for my ears.

Deafness to the vanities and troubles of the world sometimes allows the gift of the good life before us to emerge more clearly. Too often, we get caught up in the white noise of life, keeping up with the Steins and the cries of pain uttered by those who think they are enjoying true abundance. Yet what emerges is nothing more than gratification of ephemeral needs. Living a good life is about remaining focused on eternal pleasures. Lasting relationships are the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

3rdNight4thNight3rd Candle: Blessing of mellifluous life
The gift of the Tongue-tied Seeker: To speak poetry —
You think that I am heavy of speech. In fact, I am not really a stutterer at all. I am unwilling to speak, because all that humans say lacks praise of the divine. In fact, I am extraordinarily eloquent; I am a master of poetry and speech, and when I begin to speak, there isn’t a creature on earth that does not desire to listen, and in my words there is all wisdom.

Stuttering is often indicative of a high spiritual level. When speech is lofty, we often only hear fragments of it. Like Moses, the stuttering seeker has the wisdom to bridge the material and spiritual worlds by relating to the divine utterances that flow through the created world. Awareness of both the totality of time and the uniqueness of each individual minute is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

4th Candle: Blessing of melodious life
The gift of Twisted-neck Seeker: To be beyond spirit —
You think I have a crooked neck. In fact my neck is straight and fine, but I twist it to prevent my breath from mingling with the vanities and ephemeral pleasures which fill the world. My throat is beautifully formed, and I have an excellent voice, with which I can imitate every sound in the world that is not speech.

Music is symbolic of the creation of harmony. The Twisted-neck Seeker can discover the inner connection between things and draw them together, creating harmony. No matter how disconnected we feel in exile from each other and from the Divine, redemption will come when all the gifts of these seekers are integrated. Listening to the music of your soul as it opens you to a more melodious life is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

5th Candle: Blessing of joyous life
The gift of the Hunchback Seeker: To be humble and contain much —
I am not a hunchback at all; in fact, my shoulders are so powerful as to be the little that contains much.” The Hunchback Seeker, like Jacob, is the pillar that supports the structure of all our worlds. While it seems as though the Hunchback Seeker can apparently bear nothing, the opposite is true. The ability to control the world is to perceive the infinite within the finite. Living life fully requires cultivation of humility to make space for others, and most importantly to make space for the Divine presence to dwell in our midst. Knowing your place in the world and in those relationships that allow for the light of the other to shine forth is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

6th Candle: Blessing of balanced life
The gift of the Handless Seeker: To be dexterous in healing —
You believe that my hands are stumps, but they are really quite sound. In fact, they are extraordinarily powerful, but I do not use my strength in this world, because I need it for another purpose.” The Handless Seeker, like Joseph, has a unique ability to act on the material world, to heal the pain of the world by extending more light and love into it. By returning to your authentic self and sharing in acts of justice and righteousness with others, the giving here becomes a receiving. How you choose to extend more light and love into the world is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

7thNight7th Candle: Blessing of redemptive life
The gift of the Footless Seeker: To be footloose in the dance redemption —
This day of the story is never told, but Reb Nahman hopes we shall complete it on our own. The Footless Seeker, like David, brings redemption. It is the dancing of David through the power of the feet, grounded on earth but reaching the heavens, that represents the deepest conviction of ‘emunah. Considering how to extend redemptive consciousness into the world is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

8th Candle: Blessing of integration
The gift of this final candle is the overflow that comes with redemptive consciousness. It is an opportunity to return to that opening acuity of vision and now begin to integrate it into our lives. Seeing everything from the perspective of eternity allows us to see every moment of life as extraordinary, every moment as touching eternal time. These eight lights are now installed in my soul so that I may continue to carry forward that awareness into life. This is the gift of blessing offered in this candle.

Blessings,
Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credits: Lead image, Flickr user Bart (CC BY-NC 2.0); 1st, 4th, and 7th night candles by Flickr user slgckgc (CC BY 2.0); 3rd night candles by Jordan Sangerman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)