Vayikra -- Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

A strange miniature Aleph opens this week’s parsha, the only one of its kind in the Torah. What does it mean? In our study of the Zohar, we discovered the most remarkable insight:

A miniature aleph — deriving from a diminished place, diminished becoming great as it joins above.

The mystics understand this seemingly obscure scribal tradition of miniaturizing this particular Aleph as a way of showing that although the divine called to Moses, and although the divine showed Moses tremendous respect by constantly speaking to him, Moses still constantly diminished himself before the divine and also before the community of Israel. Indeed, cultivating humility before the divine encounter is a central concern addressed through all the offerings made in the Book of Leviticus.

The Book of Leviticus is also a compendium that sharply contrasts with our classic prophetic teachings, which compose most of the weekly haftarot. For the prophets, the God of Moses is the divine source of morality, and social justice is maintained through the fulfillment of ethical commands (mitzvot). According to the renowned Israeli scholar Dr. Israel Knohl, the Priestly Torah in the Book of Leviticus is distinguished by the centrality of cultic command (as opposed to ethical command); this cultic command is portrayed as the principal content of divine revelation. In his book, Sanctuary of Silence (2007), Knohl argues that the unmediated divine revelation that "is the climactic moment in Israel’s history" is "not revelation at Sinai but revelation at the Tabernacle, associated with sacrificial worship."

Waiting for the cultic calling, it is only fitting then that Moses hears the still, silent voice of the divine from the nexus of cultic activity — the Tent of Meeting [Ohel Moed]. From this point of calling [Vayikrah] — the namesake of this third book of the Pentateuch — the laws of offerings, whether meal or animal, are communicated. These 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.

It is remarkable that even in moments of apparent disconnection from the divine, there is always a way to draw closer in the act of repairing by remaining connected through ritual life. The key to opening the doorway of connection, though, is to be as humble as the diminished Aleph.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's parsha illustration marks my last for Beth Sholom. It's inspired by storyteller Joel Lurie Grishaver's insistence that we, as contemporary Jews, "try to look Leviticus in the eye – to take it on its own terms. No rationalizations. No mutations. No metaphors. ... Look directly into the fire at the bottom of the altar, and without flinching tell it: 'Go ahead, make my faith.'" Leviticus is hard. Much of Torah is hard. That's partly why it's been a privilege to create weekly parshiyot illustrations for the past 112 weeks (just over two full cycles). Torah study of all kinds demands we look long and hard into the flames, even when it's easier to look away. In so doing, we can spot the threads of personal or communal significance that run through Torah's black fire on white fire like pure threads of techelet, here radiating heavenward amidst a burning offering. Todah rabbah for looking and reading with me. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Gabriel Rogow-Patt's Bar Mitzvah

Facebook_GabrielRogowPattShalom. My name is Gabriel Bram Rogow-Patt. I am in 7th grade at The Brandeis School of San Francisco. I enjoy a good intellectual challenge. I like coding, playing video games with friends, solving puzzles, and learning trivia.

My bar mitzvah is coming up this Shabbat, and I’m excited, but also nervous. I will read from the Torah and then share my thoughts on Parashat Naso with my family, friends, and the congregation. I have learned a lot in the process of becoming a bar mitzvah, including how to read trope, how to study Jewish thought, and how to write a d’var Torah. I have given careful consideration to my own values and those of my family.

To be "bar mitzvah'ed" is to become an adult in the community and take on religious responsibilities. In Parashat Naso, we learn about several ritual practices, including the ritual vows of the nazirites. We also discover the three-fold priestly blessing, which is often given to b'nai mitzvot.

Thank you to Rabbi Glazer for helping me with my d’var Torah. Thank you to Rabbi Jill Cozen-Harel for teaching me to chant my Torah and haftarah, and for also helping me with my d’var Torah. Thank you especially to my family for supporting me all the way.

Eva Leavitt's Bat Mitzvah

Facebook_EvaLeavittShalom. My name is Eva Sivan Leavitt and I’m a seventh grader at The Brandeis School of San Francisco. I am looking forward to my bat mitzvah, which will take place this Saturday, March 18.

I've been part of the Beth Sholom community since preschool, and now I’m entering the adult community. My portion is about Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, and Aaron making the golden calf.

Some of my hobbies are art and cooking, and I also sing in a chorus. I have lived in Israel for a year, and I love traveling. Traveling gives me a chance to see the world in a different way and to learn about other people and cultures.

I think that to enter adulthood is to learn more about yourself and not so much about reaching a milestone or becoming a certain age. I think that each person has a different path to entering adulthood.

I want to thank Rabbi Glazer for helping me with my drash, and to Noa Bar for teaching me my Torah portion and my haftarah.

Arlo Novicoff's Bar Mitzvah

Facebook_ArloNovicoffShalom, my name is Arlo Novicoff. I’m a 7th grader at A.P. Giannini Middle School. In my free time, I like to play sports and hang out in the city with my family and friends. I’m interested in traveling, good food, history, and math. This coming Shabbat, February 11, I will become a bar mitzvah.

In my parsha, Beshalach, Pharaoh frees the Israelites and they journey to the Promised Land. As they approach the Red Sea, Pharoah regrets his decision to release them and commands his army to bring the Israelites back as slaves. With Pharaoh's army behind them, the Israelites cry out to God and fear that they will be captured. Moses reassures the Israelites of God’s support by splitting the Red Sea, and they all cross to safety. Although the Israelites are now free, their journey is far from over. They face new challenges along the way, like lack of food, lack of water, and lack of confidence in themselves. Moses once again reassures the Israelites and God provides for them. As we conclude the parsha, the Amalekites attack the vulnerable Israelites and Joshua leads a small army to defend them.

I want to recognize my family who have supported me on this exciting journey. I would like to thank my bar mitzvah tutor, Noa Bar, for teaching me to chant Torah and haftarah trope and to Rabbi Glazer for helping me to prepare my d’var Torah - the discussions and focus were much appreciated. Thank you to Judy and the Chicken Soupers team, who welcomed me during my volunteer days in the CBS kitchen over the course of this past year – it has really opened me up to the realities some elderly people face in our city. Lastly, I’d like to thank the entire CBS community for being there for me from preschool until now. I look forward to seeing many of you next week at CBS!

Simona Lewis' Bat Mitzvah

SimonaLewisHello. My name is Simona Lewis. I’m an eighth grader at The Brandeis School of San Francisco. My interests include hanging out with my friends, dancing, playing and creating computer games, and spending time with my family. This coming Shabbat, September 10, I will become a bat mitzvah.

My parsha is Shoftim, which means judges. In this parsha, Moses tells the Israelites about different rules about appointing judges and how to have a just society. He explains the requirements to be a judge, the rules about the cities of refuge, as well as the requirements a king must have if the Israelites choose to appoint one. Parashat Shoftim also includes the famous commandment, "Tzedek tzedek tirdof," or, "Justice, justice you shall pursue."

I would like to thank my parents for always being there for me and helping me prepare for this big day in my life. I would also like to thank Rabbi Jill Cozen-Harel for her support and for helping me learn how to read and chant Torah and haftarah, as well as helping me write my drash. I would also like to thank my brother and sister for encouraging me and listening to me practice countless times. Lastly, I would like to thank The Brandeis School of San Francisco and the Congregation Beth Sholom community for celebrating this milestone in my life with me and my family.

Please note that Simona's bat mitzvah will take place at Camp Newman on Saturday, September 10, but that she will observe a tefillin bat mitzvah at CBS this Thursday, September 8, during morning minyan (7 a.m.).

Simone Jochnowitz's Bat Mitzvah

Facebook_JochnowitzHello. My name is Simone Jochnowitz. I’m an eighth grader at A.P. Giannini Middle School. My interests include hanging out with my friends, playing trombone in my school band, dancing, and going on walks with my dog. This coming Shabbat, August 27, I will become a bat mitzvah.

My parsha is Ekev, which means "if." In this parsha, Moses tells the people Israel about all the good things that will happen to them IF they follow the laws and commandments that he has taught them. He reminds them about the unfortunate episode involving the Golden Calf, and other evil actions they committed during their 40 years in the desert. Parashat Ekev also contains the famous question, "What does HaShem want?" (The answer: "Follow his ways and do justice.")

I would like to thank my mother and father for teaching me the haftarah and helping me with my speech; Rabbi Glazer for his support; my brother and sisters for their love and encouragement; and the Congregation Beth Sholom community for celebrating this simcha with me and my family.

Welcoming Shabbat Nachamu

Sadly, the time has come for us to bid our all-star Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn Summer Intern, Claire Ambruster, a fond adieu.

For eight weeks this summer, Claire was a welcome addition to the CBS team. Without exception, every member of the CBS staff was very impressed with her and pleased with the work she did. As Rabbi Glazer wrote, "Claire was a pleasure to work with – responsive, responsible, and Jewishly knowledgeable and curious. Her ability to juggle multiple tasks and manage her time is noteworthy as are her people skills. This bodes well for future service in the Jewish community and beyond!"

We wish Claire the very best, and hope to see more of her since she'll just be across the Bay at Mills College. Fortunately for us, she is sharing one final blog contribution, this one about Shabbat Nachamu (August 20).

* * * * *

Facebook_ModehAni_ClaireThis summer, I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to work at Congregation Beth Sholom through the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Kohn internship. I worked in different departments here at CBS, which allowed me to gain perspective into different types of work — from accounting to communications. I really enjoyed getting to know my coworkers and the CBS community. Thank you to everyone who helped to make my time here full of growth!

Did you know that this coming Shabbat is a special one?

Shabbat Nachamu begins this Friday evening, the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. Just yesterday, Tisha B’Av brought a period of intense mourning for many losses, including the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. However, on Shabbat Nachamu we make a complete shift, focusing instead on hope, healing, and light. Although we fasted and had no celebrations on Tisha B’Av, we have celebrations and weddings after Shabbat Nachamu.

Shabbat Nachamu also begins the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah — marking the start of a journey towards teshuvah and repentance. Despite our feelings of brokenness on Tisha B’Av, these seven weeks symbolize completeness, reminiscent of the seven days of the week or the seven days of shiva. For these next seven weeks, we read a weeky haftarah that provides comfort. On Shabbat Nachamu, we begin the haftarah with the line "Nachamu nachamu ami yomer eloheim," which means "You all comfort, comfort My people, says G-d" (Isaiah 40:1). In other words, "Come together and comfort each other and you will heal."

How does our tradition expect us to suddenly turn from complete mourning, loss, and destruction to comfort, healing, and hope — what really has changed? How many of us actually have the ability to just change our focus when we feel despair? And where does pain go?

In Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, he relates a Hindu parable about a student who frequently complained. To teach her student a lesson, the master told her to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. It tasted bitter. Then, the master told her student to drop the salt into the lake and taste it again. Now, the salt was diluted and the water tasted fresh. At this, the master told her apprentice, "The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things... Stop being a glass. Become a lake" (Nepo 18). On Shabbat Nachamu, we are called to become a lake. Although pain may always exist, we expand our perspective to include infinite sorrows and joys.

No matter the roadblocks, we can possess extensive gratitude — and those "roadblocks" can become "stepping stones" to learning something new. The Hebrew expression for gratitude is "hikarat hatov," literally, "recognizing the good." Each of us has many things to be thankful for — no matter what. In Pirkei Avot, it states, "Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own lot" (Pirkei Avot 4:1). In this way, our choices are what determine our outlook — and that is the wisdom of Shabbat Nachamu.

Artwork credit & note: Claire Ambruster, Modeh Ani, Watercolor on paper, 2015; Claire wanted this piece to accompany her article because the title and first words of our morning prayer, "Modeh ani," mean "I give thanks." That sentiment (and the practice of reciting the Modeh Ani with intention) can help us "become a lake."

Elise Taubman's Bat Mitzvah

EliseShalom! My name is Elise Taubman and I am a 7th grader at the Brandeis School of San Francisco. At Brandeis, I enjoy taking electives on computer programming and discussing Shakespeare with my classmates in my English class. The best part of school is that I get to hang out with a great group of friends, some of whom I have known since kindergarten. Aside from school, I enjoy singing with the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco and dancing at my dance studio. When I really want to relax, there is nothing better than spinning yarn on my Kiwi (my spinning wheel). Time with my family is particularly important to me and I enjoy spending Shabbat dinners and holidays, such as Passover, with my family.

Over the last year, I have been preparing for the occasion of becoming a bat mitzvah. I have gained much from my preparation and learned about the struggles of commitment and time management throughout the process. My parsha is Behar, in which G-d describes the rules regarding the Sabbatical years, the Jubilee year and land ownership, among others. I enjoyed reading the different interpretations of Parashat Behar, and particularly meaningful to me was the Jubilee section which acts to remedy entrenched poverty and to restore power to the voiceless in society.

This year in 7th grade, I have been working on my Tzedakah project, alongside my bat mitzvah studies. In this project, two students at Brandeis work together to learn about a charitable organization. My partner and I chose Mitzvah Corps, which provides Jewish high school-aged teenagers with an opportunity to travel to poor communities around the world. Teens connect and learn about those communities and donate their time to help with projects in those communities. From this project, I have learned much about how even teenagers can make a difference in the world and I am looking forward to participating in Mitzvah Corps once I am in high school.

I want to thank Rabbi Glazer, who took time to help me prepare for my bat mitzvah. I also would like to thank my tutor Randy Weiss and my Saba for helping me chant my haftarah, maftir, and Torah service prayers. Finally, I would like to thank my parents and siblings for their endless support and nagging. I needed all of it!

I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Jacob Goode's Bar Mitzvah

JacobGoodeI’m Jacob Goode, a seventh grader at Claire Lilienthal in San Francisco. I enjoy learning, playing baseball and golf, watching the Giants and Warriors, hanging out with my friends and playing video games, and traveling the world with my family. In fact, my family and I have recently returned from a trip to Israel, which has helped put my bar mitzvah in perspective. I have a greater appreciation for our long history.

I am very excited that this Shabbat is my bar mitzvah. This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Emor. The text outlines the Jewish festivals, holy days, and some of the Jewish laws and rituals. Parashat Emor concludes by describing an incident in which a man is accused of blasphemy. The text then provides the principle of lex talionis, "ayin tachat ayin, shein tachat shein" (literally, an "eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth"). I’m looking forward to sharing this day with friends, family, and members of the community, whom I hope shall end Shabbat with good sight and fully dentured.

I’d like to thank my amazing tutor, Noa, who helped me learn this week’s haftarah, the maftir for this week’s Torah portion, the blessings before and after the readings, and the Torah service in such a short time. I’d also like to thank our B'nai Mitzvah Chavurah for their support and friendship. I’d like to thank Rabbis Glazer and Hyman, and my CBS Shabbat School teacher, Elizabeth Andrews. And a very special thanks to my family (the Chikhanis and the Goodes), for being there every step of the way, for always supporting me, encouraging me, and schlepping me to where I wanted to be.

Vayikra -- Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26

CoverDesign_VayikraA strange miniature Aleph opens this week’s parsha, the only one of its kind in the Torah. What does it mean?

In our communal study of the Zohar, we discovered the most remarkable insight:

A miniature aleph — deriving from a diminished place, diminished becoming great as it joins above.

The mystics understand this seemingly obscure scribal tradition of miniaturizing this particular Aleph as a way of showing that although the divine called to Moses, and although the divine showed Moses tremendous respect by constantly speaking to him, Moses still constantly diminished himself before the divine and also before the community of Israel. Indeed, cultivating humility before the divine encounter is a central concern addressed through all the offerings made in the Book of Leviticus.

The Book of Leviticus is also a compendium that sharply contrasts with our classic prophetic teachings, which compose most of the weekly haftarot. For the prophets, the God of Moses is the divine source of morality, and social justice is maintained through the fulfillment of ethical commands (mitzvot). According to the renowned Israeli scholar Dr. Israel Knohl, the Priestly Torah in the Book of Leviticus is distinguished by the centrality of cultic command (as opposed to ethical command); this cultic command is portrayed as the principal content of divine revelation. In his book, Sanctuary of Silence (2007), Knohl argues that the unmediated divine revelation that "is the climactic moment in Israel’s history" is "not revelation at Sinai but revelation at the Tabernacle, associated with sacrificial worship."

Waiting for the cultic calling, it is only fitting then that Moses hears the still, silent voice of the divine from the nexus of cultic activity — the Tent of Meeting [Ohel Moed]. From this point of calling [Vayikrah] — the namesake of this third book of the Pentateuch — the laws of offerings, whether meal or animal, are communicated. These 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.

It is remarkable that even in moments of apparent disconnection from the divine, there is always a way to draw closer in the act of repairing by remaining connected through ritual life. The key to opening the doorway of connection, though, is to be as humble as the diminished Aleph.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork credit: Illustration of an 'olah offering by Christopher Orev Reiger.