Beha'alotecha – Numbers 8:1 - 12:16

How does ritual allow for the building of community practice?

Ongoing commitment to communal ritual requires trust. Another key for community building I learned from Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman (Oranim College of Education) while on the Rabin Bay Area Leadership Mission to Israel is mutual trust. It is defined as the "willingness of individuals to join and help others without deep personal familiarity nor with any expectation, just the conviction that this is what other members of a community are doing, so I will do it, too."

In Parashat Beha'alotecha, as Aaron is commanded to light the lamps of the menorah, the focus is on just how to raise the sparks to create a luminous presence. For those Israelites unable to bring the Paschal offering at the appointed time, there is another chance with the institution of a Second Passover. Also, dissatisfaction with the manna from heaven sets in as the Israelites yearn for new tastes.

Each of these scenarios involves an initial enthusiasm that fades, so that the challenge remains how to hold onto that inspiration through a daily spiritual practice. The mosaic wisdom here is instructive, specifically in imparting his (Moses') spirit to the appointed seventy elders. Spiritual practice is bolstered in a community of practice where mutual trust is a given.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork depicts "the cloud of the Lord" that leads the Israelites through their years of desert wandering. "Whether it was for two days, a month, or a year, that the cloud lingered to hover over the Mishkan, the children of Israel would encamp and not travel, and when it departed, they traveled." (Numbers 9:22) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Beha'alotecha – Numbers 8:1 - 12:16

Facebook_CoverDesign_BehaAlotechaHow does ritual allow for the building of community practice?

Ongoing commitment to communal ritual requires trust. Another key for community building I learned from Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman (Oranim College of Education) while on the Rabin Bay Area Leadership Mission to Israel is Mutual Trust: The "willingness of individuals to join and help others without deep personal familiarity nor with any expectation, just the conviction that this is what other members of a community are doing, so I will do it, too."

In Parashat Beha'alotecha, as Aaron is commanded to light the lamps of the menorah, the focus is on just how to raise the sparks to create a luminous presence. For those Israelites unable to bring the Paschal offering at the appointed time, there is another chance with the institution of a Second Passover. Also, dissatisfaction with the manna from heaven sets in as the Israelites yearn for new tastes.

Each of these scenarios involves an initial enthusiasm that fades, so that the challenge remains how to hold onto that inspiration through a daily spiritual practice. The mosaic wisdom here is instructive, specifically in imparting his (Moses') spirit to the appointed seventy elders. Spiritual practice is bolstered in a community of practice where mutual trust is a given.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork depicts "the cloud of the Lord" that leads the Israelites through their years of desert wandering. "Whether it was for two days, a month, or a year, that the cloud lingered to hover over the Mishkan, the children of Israel would encamp and not travel, and when it departed, they traveled." (Numbers 9:22) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayakhel -- Exodus 35:1 – 38:20

Facebook_CoverDesign_VayakhelWhile participating on the Rabin Community Building Mission to Israel, I came to realize just how much community is founded upon shared values and built upon shared practice. On this mission, I learned from Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman from Oranim College in Eretz Yisrael, who taught that there are five lenses for measuring community building:

(a) Meaningfulness: "My uniqueness is an important resource and influence for the group" – establishing an existential connection through the journey of the spirit;

(b) Belonging: "This is mine" – feeling a sense of ownership of the community over space and time, whereby this emerging community becomes part of the definition of my personal identity;

(c) Commitment: "I feel responsible for the general good of the group" – feeling a sense of responsibility for the spiritual and emotional well-being of the community;

(d) Mutual trust: willingness to join and help others without deep personal familiarity nor with any expectation, just the conviction that here this is what members of a community are doing, so will I;

(e) Devotion: determining the spiritual practice that galvanizes each of these aforementioned levels of engagement – feeling an embodied relationship to the Torah as a regular way of life.

Let us consider just how the team of wise-hearted artisans who create the Tabernacle and its furnishings were able to embody each of these lenses of community building. The co-operative nature of these instructions Moses conveys regarding the construction of the Tabernacle requires many precious materials. Once asked, the community's response is immediate; 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!

How might we elevate our spiritual practice as a highest agenda, bringing together our boundless passions and talents so we can truly recommit ourselves to ensuring that all five lenses of community building remain on our radar, both in America and Israel – this is our ever-present challenge.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: Parashat Vayakhel includes a detailed description of the menorah Bezalel crafts for the Mishkan. "And he made the menorah of pure gold; of hammered work he made the menorah, its base and its stem, its goblets, its knobs, and its flowers were [all one piece] with it." (Exodus 37:17) Many generations later, Maimonides (the Rambam) drew a picture of the menorah based on the Torah's description; he used only basic geometric shapes: circles, triangles, and half-circles. This week’s illustration is modeled on Maimonides’ unusual (and curiously contemporary) imagining. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Shemot -- Exodus 1:1-6:1

facebook_coverdesign_shemotAs we open the Book of Exodus – which describes the founding of a nation and a collective religion we today call Judaism – let us consider the challenge that philosopher Peter Sloterdijk poses to our assumptions about the myth of religion's return in recent decades.

In You Must Change Your Life (2014), Sloterdijk argues that it is not religion that is returning, but a mode in which humans are practicing, training beings that create and re-create themselves through exercises and routine. In the course of this training, Sloterdijk writes, an individual human "transcends itself."

In making the case for the expansion of what Sloterdijk calls a "practice zone" for individuals as well as for society as a whole, new insights emerge about what he dubs the "self-formation" of all things human, both individual and collective, and the dynamism between those two. As individuals, we are interwoven into the collective and vice versa.

This sense of the individual intertwined within the collective could not be more evident than in this week’s opening section of the Book of Exodus, where the collective children of Israel are growing numerous and prospering generations after Joseph’s rise to become grand vizier of Egypt. Yet all that remains of their integration and elevation into Egyptian society are their individual names. What has happened to their collective "practice zone"? Still, names tell a story, even if one nearly forgotten.

It is precisely this prosperity and integration that now becomes perceived as a threat to their Egyptian overlords. In the process of Pharaoh’s enslaving the Israelites, he also orders the Hebrew midwives Shifra and Puah to kill all male babies by throwing them into the Nile.

If it was not for the righteous indignation of the midwives, Moses would never have come onto the scene. This child born to Yocheved, daughter of Levi, and her husband Amram, is placed in a basket along the Nile River. It is Pharaoh’s daughter who discovers the baby hidden in the basket while bathing in the Nile and names him Moses.

Fast forward to Moses fleeing the palace, finding his way to Midian, where he rescues Tzipporah, daughter of local chieftain and priest of Midian, Jethro. He later marries Tzipporah and becomes a shepherd of Jethro’s flocks. Moses continues to wander in search of the truth, finally encountering the divine in renowned theophany of the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai.

As Moses and Aaron challenge Pharaoh’s recalcitrance to free the Israelites, the people hold fast to the hope that redemption is at hand. When we know the depth of our own name’s message, then perhaps our "practice zone" can re-emerge more boldly in the community within which we are all intertwined as a collective.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: If this week’s illustration calls to mind the facade of our remarkable sanctuary, good. But it’s also a straightforward rendering of an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph called a neb. The checkered pattern was used in the hieroglyph to show that the bowl-shaped basket was woven from reeds. Perhaps the same type of Egyptian basket was used to float Moses in this week's parsha? "[When] she could no longer hide him, she took [for] him a reed basket, smeared it with clay and pitch, placed the child into it, and put [it] into the marsh at the Nile's edge." (Exodus 2:3) From now on, when you look at the striking architecture of CBS, think ark, menorah, and neb! Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Beha'alotecha -- Numbers 8:1 - 12:16

Facebook_CoverDesign_BehaalotechaCo-founder of Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, Sharon Salzberg (b. 1952) once remarked:

"We can learn the art of fierce compassion -- redefining strength, deconstructing isolation, and renewing a sense of community, practicing letting go of rigid us-versus-them thinking -- while cultivating power and clarity in response to difficult situations."

How does ritual allow for the building of such community practice?

Firstly, as Aaron is commanded to light the lamps of the menorah, the focus is on just how to raise the sparks to create a luminous presence. Secondly, for those Israelites unable to bring the Paschal offering at the appointed time, there is another chance with the institution of a Second Passover. Thirdly, dissatisfaction with the manna from heaven sets in as the Israelites yearn for new tastes.

Each of these scenarios involves an initial enthusiasm that fades, so that the challenge remains how to hold onto that inspiration through a daily spiritual practice. The mosaic wisdom here is instructive, specifically in imparting his spirit to the appointed seventy elders. Spiritual practice is bolstered in a community of practice.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract depiction of Numbers 10:34: "The cloud of the Lord was above them by day, when they traveled from the camp." The "cloud" in the picture intentionally looks more like an eye or a cell, a nod to the importance of seeing/acknowledging the wondrous in the mundane. In opening ourselves to wonder, we locate G-d in a cloud (or a nucleus). Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.