From Seedtime to Harvest:
From the values and spirit of tikkun to community building and sustained action read more »
Beginning on the eve of the second day of Pesach, we are instructed by our tradition to count the days of the “Omer” until the fiftieth day, which is when the first barley crop would be harvested. It is also the Jewish holiday of Shavuot when, according to our tradition, the Jewish People received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The counting of the Omer is a bridge between Pesach and Shavuot – between a moment of liberation and a moment of self-definition and direction at the beginning of our evolution as a religious civilization. It is an opportunity to deepen our study and close the gap between ideas and action for the tikkun (rebalancing, repair) of the challenges we face in our world.
According to Jewish tradition, Jews are instructed to count the days of the "omer" -- the barley sheaf -- until the fiftieth day, which is when the first barley crop would be harvested. The fiftieth day is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot when, the rabbis tell us, Jews received Torah at Mt. Sinai. During the Omer period, reading Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Ancestors) -- the most popular and accessible part of the Talmud -- is also a traditional part of these seven weeks. Pirke Avot is a source of ethical teachings codified around the year 200 C.E.
In 2005, Shavuot also corresponded with the 50th birthday of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. To celebrate our 50th birthday, JRF invited everyone to share in the study of Pirke Avot together. Reconstructionist Rabbis and educators presented three Mishnayot (sections) from one perek (chapter) of Pirke Avot on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of each week.
The teachings were:
Chapter Date Teachers
1 May 2, 2005 Rabbis Fredi Cooper, Jeffrey Eisenstat, Shai Gluskin
2 May 9, 2005 Deborah Eisenbach-Budner
3 May 16, 2005 Rabbis Shawn Zevit and Fredi Cooper
4 May 23, 2005 Rabbi Richard Hirsh
5 May 30, 2005 Rabbi Steve Segar
6 June 6, 2005 Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
See http://184.108.40.206/pirke-avot/index.html for more information.
The following is an excerpt from a sermon I gave on Rosh Hashanah called, Bible Bullies. You can read the sermon in its entirety on my blog:
The pediatrician who supervised the assessment that our son had Asberger's Syndrome broke the news to me gently as though he was waiting for me to burst into tears. read more »
But the son I brought home that day was the exact same child I've loved his entire life. In receiving the diagnosis, Bobby (my husband) and I strode right past denial, anger, bargaining, and depression and went straight to acceptance of Yonatan's condition. What we really wanted to figure out was how he was going to make his way in the world.
One who sells his or her land to another is obligated to give his neighbor who has an adjoining field precedence in any sale… This is in accordance with the principle stated in Torah, “you shall do that which is right and good.” [Deuteronomy 6:18] Our Sages said that... it is right and good that the adjoining landowner should have a prior right of purchase over the one whose fields are far away. —Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Neighbors 12:5
Better a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away. —Proverbs 27:10 read more »
[Jacob] came close and kissed [his father Isaac]. [Isaac] smelled the fragrance of his [son Esau’s] clothes and he blessed [Jacob who was wearing them]. [Isaac] said, “See, my son’s fragrance is like the fragrance of a field blessed by YHVH.” (Genesis 27:27) read more »
It’s easy to remember the moment in Genesis when Rebekah covers her favorite son Jacob in goatskins so that he’ll feel, to his blind father’s touch, just like his hairier twin Esau. The image of an ambitious mother secretly wrapping and binding her younger son’s hands and smooth neck (in rough approximation of Esau’s rough hands and neck) tends to linger, doesn’t it?
Two centuries ago William Wordsworth wrote:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Two years ago Ellen Bernstein, founder of Shomrei Adamah wrote:
Since the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis, a sign of separation from nature and our selves, we must mend the division and fix the brokenness at the root.(p. 13, The Splendor of Creation, Pilgrim Press, 2005) read more »
But how do we, as Wordsworth might put it, get our hearts back? What might lead us back from the brink of devastating separation from the rest of the world?
Ellen Dannin sees Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12-15), a portion that deal with the priests' handling of disease, in a new light after going through knee surgery. Ancient sensibilities became more resonant with her own experience.
Just as with us, life then must have been punctuated with all sorts of disabilities. Just as with us, for some the causes were known, while others were a mystery. And also just as with us, illness is inevitably linked with blame. Yes, what was a bad knee-joint like that doing in a nice girl like me? you may ask. I certainly did.
Parashat Terumah is one of those portions that can be the bane of every Bar or Bat Mizvah kid: a seemingly endless litany of picayune details regarding the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). What on earth can we possibly learn from this parade of dolphin skins, acacia wood, crimson yarns, loops and clasps?
If we understand the construction of the Mishkan as a metaphor for creating sacred community, the lesson should be obvious: details matter. read more »
I’ve been acutely aware of this lesson as JRC constructs its new synagogue building. In addition to the many details that come with a construction project of this magnitude (e.g., fund raising, location, budget, design, zoning, etc.) our board made one important decision early in the building process: that we would build our building in the most environmentally sustainable manner possible. Guided by the sacred Jewish value of Bal Tashchit , we have now begun construction on what we intend to be the first certified “Green Synagogue” in the world.
The Song of Songs, sometimes called or The Song of Solomon, is one of the five scrolls read on various holidays throughout the year. It is designated as the scroll we read for the holiday of Pesach. The entire book is a series of love songs in poetic form. read more »
This book is unique in the books of the Bible in that not only does it not mention G-d, it also doesn't deal with religious themes explicitly. While the book of Esther also fails to mention G-d, the spirit of nationalism and the Jewish people pervades that book in a way which is lacking here.
In this article I argue that the tension between law and rebellion, between status quo and the desire to bring redemption now, is played out richly and artfully in the liturgy of the Passover Seder.
Specific references to the text are explained in this light.