Running With Grace / Graceful Masculinity: Vayeira

וַיֹּאמַר:  אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ.

And he said, “my lord, if I have found grace in your eyes, please do not pass from before your servant.” (Genesis 18:3)

 

Vayeira begins as Avraham, recovering from his recent circumcision, is conversing with G-d in a prophetic state. Suddenly, Avraham lifts up his eyes and sees three angels, presenting as men, approaching. He runs to greet them and then says, “My Lord, if I have found grace in your eyes, please do not pass from before your servant.”

With whom is Avraham speaking? If he is speaking to the three men, why does he address them in the singular?  Rashi offers two understandings of Avraham’s words. First Rashi suggests that Avraham is speaking to the three men, but he is addressing the most important of the three and that is why he says “my lord.” Then Rashi shares an intriguing, alternative approach. Avraham is actually speaking with G-d, asking G-d to wait while he goes to welcome the potential guests.

Based on this understanding of the verse, the Talmud teaches1 that “Welcoming guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence”. But if Avraham is asking G-d not to pass on from him, why does he first run to the three men? Would it not make more sense to take his leave of G-d and then run to greet his guests? Also, how did Avraham know that it was acceptable to keep G-d waiting in order to service guests? 

The Ramchal frames2 all of character development as an attempt to better understand G-d in order to act as G-d would act. “Walking in G-d’s ways – this includes all matters of uprightness and correction of character traits.” He explains that is what the Talmud3 means when it teaches “Just as God is full of grace and compassion, we should similarly be merciful and compassionate.4

The commentators5 observe that Talmud could have simply taught that we should be graceful and compassionate because G-d is, but instead the Talmud links our actions to G-d’s by making them conditional to be G-d like. In other words, the more we study and come to know G-d and the appropriate applications of G-d’s attributes, the more similar we can be to G-d.

Abraham started his quest to understand G-d very early on and now, 96 years later, he had perfected his body to be aligned with the Divine Will. R’ Nosson Gestetner writes that Avraham’s 248 limbs were so attuned to their corresponding 248 positive commandments that his body naturally was performing in G-dly ways. 

As soon as his feet began to run towards the guests, he assumed that was what God wanted him to do. Because G-d is charitable, Avraham knew that he was also meant to be. Perhaps our verse should be understood as a question of approbation, after having left the prophetic state, asking “If I have found grace in Your eyes, if I have understood You correctly, this is what You want me to do – If I have properly found your way of gracefulness, please don’t leave me because I am not leaving you.” Avraham wasn’t just walking in G-d’s ways, but he was running!

Our relationship with G-d, however asymmetrical, is still reciprocal. Whatever Abraham did for his angelic guests himself, G-d performed directly for Abraham’s descendants. But whatever was done through a messenger, G-d also performed indirectly; mida k’neged mida, measure for measure.  This principal can also be understood, homiletically, as reflecting G-d’s Midos, character traits. The more we understand G-d the more we can be like G-d, and then the more G-d shares G-d’s self in relationship with us. 

Perhaps the mitzvah of welcoming strangers is the example given because one of the ways that we come to better understand G-d is by seeing different aspects of G-d in other people. It is now also a way to express to G-d, like Abraham did, that we come closer to  G-d by treating people with kindness.

 


1. Bavli Shavuot 35b

2. Introduction to Path of the Just

3. Talmud Bavli Shabbat 133b

4.Rashi explains this teaching about grace, from Abba Shaul on the verse in Exodus of זה א-לי ואנוהו, through the etymology ואנוהו = אני והוא, me and G-d – that we should make ourselves like G-d by doing as God does, adding to the Braisa’s understanding of אנוהו as the act of beautifying a mitzvah

5. בלבבי משכן אבנה

 

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah by R’ David Markus

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi David Markus. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English. Deepest thanks to Rabbi Juan Mejia for translation.

 

 

Hola mis amigos.  Desde mi corazón en Nueva York al vuestro en Cuba, envío mis bendiciones para esta sagrada temporada de “lo que viene después”.

“Lo que viene después” es nuestra eterna pregunta humana y también es nuestra pregunta espiritual para este mes.  Es una pregunta sagrada no porque este mes contenga fiestas sagradas, sino justamente por la razón contraria.

En nuestro calendario laico, es noviembre.  Escasamente puedo creer que ha sido un año entero desde mi visita a Cuba.  Aún un año después siento cuán viva se sentía Cuba en Noviembre comparado con Nueva York.  El poeta británico Thomas Hood escribió que todas las cosas más bellas terminan en noviembre.

Sin calor, ni alegría, ni saludable facilidad,

Sin sensación cómodo en ningún miembro-

Sin sombra, sin brillo, sin mariposas ni abejas,

Sin frutas, sin flores, sin hojas, sin aves,

Noviembre!

Pero no en Cuba.  Y no sólo por el clima.  Especialmente en medio de la dificultad, la comunidad judía de Cuba compartió  su tesón, su pasión, su espíritu de bienvenida y su propio ser.  Nos fuimos cambiados para siempre.  Parte de nuestros corazones todavía está con ustedes, especialmente ahora en medio de la adversidad que azota a gran parte del mundo.

Así que es especialmente significativo que este noviembre comience en el medio del mes judío de Jeshvan.  Jeshván es nuestro único mes sin fiestas-  sin tiempo sagrado dedicado a nuestros rituales, reuniones, devoción, orgullo, alegría, dolor, ansia y aprendizaje.  Después del intenso mes judío de Tishré, lleno de fiestas como Rosh Hashaná, Yom Kippur, Sukkot y más, súbitamente ya no hay más.

A veces la sabiduría más grande del judaísmo es sutil: el judaísmo nos enseña no sólo a través de las grandes fiestas y proclamaciones sino también a través de lo que el profeta Elías experimentó como la “tranquila voz susurrante” de nuestro interior.

Igualmente con Jeshván.  Un mes entero con una súbita ausencia de fiestas judías nos enseña que la vida judía no gravita alrededor de las fiestas.  Más bien, la vida judía tiene que ver con nuestro día a día, la rutina aparente con la que interactuamos los unos con los otros.  El judaísmo gravita alrededor de nuestra devoción, orgullo, alegría, dolor, ansia y aprendizaje a través de todo nuestra vida, y no sólo en ocasiones especiales.

Sí, las ocasiones especiales son jusatmente eso: especiales.  Son oportunidades especiales para reunirnos y celebrar, especialmente cuando el esfuerzo implicado en reunirnos es física y económicamente desafiante.

En contraste, Jeshván centra nuestra atención en el judaísmo y las mitzvot (mandamientos) de la vida judía en el resto del tiempo, ya que no vivimos sólo para las fiestas.  En efecto, vivimos todos los días. Vivimos para nuestras familias y amigos, para tener oportunidades de aprender, para tratarnos bien los unos a los otros, para buscar y encontrar gratitud por nuestras bendiciones así sean pequeñas, para la alegría de celebrar shabbat cada semana.  Buscamos y, a veces, incluso encontramos lo sagrado en nuestras vidas cotidianas.

Tal vez ese sea el secreto judío para sobrevivir y prosperar a través de los siglos.  Nuestro secreto está en nuestras fiestas compartidas, pero más aún en vivir nuestra identidad orgullosamente, nuestra misión y nuestro credo todos los días.  Que este Jeshván, el mes sin fiestas judías, nos recuerde que el amor, la alegría y el sentido de nuestra vida judía nos aguarda en cada día, en cada alma, en cada lugar y en cada momento.

Hello, my friends.  From my heart in New York to yours across Cuba, I send blessings for this sacred season of “what comes next.”

“What comes next,” our eternally human question, also is our spiritual question this month. It’s a sacred question not because this month brings sacred Jewish holidays, but precisely for the opposite reason.

In our secular calendar, it’s November.  I barely can believe that it’s been a whole year since my community and I visited Cuba.  Even a year later, I feel how alive Cuba’s November felt compared to New York.  British poet Thomas Hood wrote that most everything beautiful ends in November:

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member—
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!

But not in Cuba – and not only because of climate.  Especially amidst hardship, the Jewish communities of Cuba shared with us your resilience, your passion, your welcoming spirit and your very selves.  We left changed forever. Part of our hearts still is with you, especially now amidst continuing adversity for so much of the world.
So it’s especially poignant that this November begins midway into Judaism’s spiritual month of Cheshvan.  Cheshvan is our only month with no holidays – no specially sacred times to focus our rituals, gatherings, devotion, pride, joy, grief, yearning or learning.  After Judaism’s intense month of Tishrei full of holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and more, suddenly there are none.
Sometimes our Jewish tradition’s greatest wisdom is subtle: Judaism teaches us not only in the big festivals and proclamations but also in what Elijah the prophet experienced as “the still, small voice” inside.
So too with Cheshvan. A whole month’s sudden absence of Jewish festivals can teach us that Jewish life actually isn’t about festivals at all. Rather, Jewish life is mostly about our day to day, our seemingly routine of how we treat each other. Judaism is about our devotion, pride, joy, grief, yearning and learning together throughout our lives, not just on special occasions.
Yes, special occasions are just that – special.  They’re special opportunities to gather together and celebrate, especially when the effort of gathering can be physically and economically challenging.
But Cheshvan focuses us on our Judaism, and mitzvot (commandments) of Jewish life the rest of the time, because we don’t live only for festivals. After all, we live each day.  We live for our families and friends, for chances to learn, for treating each other well, for seeking and finding gratitude for blessings however small, for joyfully making Shabbat every week.  We seek and sometimes even find the sacred in our daily lives.
Maybe that’s Judaism’s secret of surviving and thriving over the centuries.  Our secret is partly in our shared festivals, but mostly in pridefully living our identity, our calling and our creed every day.  May this Cheshvan, this month with no Jewish holidays, remind us that the love, joy and meaning of Jewish life await us every day, in every soul, in every place and in every moment.
By Rabbi David Markus. Translation by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Covenantal Grace / Graceful Masculinity: Lech Lecha

Part of a periodic Torah series on graceful masculinity and Jewish values.

 

 וַיְהִי אַבְרָם, בֶּן-תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה וְתֵשַׁע שָׁנִים; וַיֵּרָא יְקוָק אֶל-אַבְרָם, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי-קל שַׁקי–הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי, וֶהְיֵה תָמִים.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Hashem appeared to Abram and said to him. “I am El Shaddai; walk before me and be perfect.” (Genesis 17:1)

God commands Abraham to be entirely perfect. It is difficult to perfect one’s body and soul as the partnership between them is naturally contentious. The body is formed from the earth and the soul from Heaven, and each yearns towards its source. Without work, they will be in opposition to each other. This lack of harmony, according to the Sefas Emes, is the deficiency that bris mila, circumcision, comes to fix.1 Circumcision takes a site of physical desire, and consecrates it for spiritual purpose. 

The commentators famously ask “If Abraham kept the Torah,2 even though it had not yet been given on Mount Sinai, why did he wait to be commanded to be circumcised?” One simple answer might be that circumcision is more than a physical act. It is the instantiation of covenant. You can’t enter into such an intimate space  — the space of covenant —  without the consent of the other. Circumcision reminds us of the holiness of actions being determined by the will of another. Until G-d said “I want you …,” it couldn’t be fulfilled.

For bodies to whom circumcision applies, circumcision allies the body to the soul, which provides a continuity of our actions. The temporary nature of the physical world gains permanence through a spiritual attachment. The Bris Kehunas Olam observes an allusion to this in the verse (Psalms 144:4) “ימיו כצל עובר / His days are like a passing shadow.” In Hebrew, the phrase has a numerical value of 484; the same as “body-soul” גוף נשמה. With the sixth letter vuv, “ו” the conjunction “and,” it equals תמים, perfect. The Zohar says the letter “vuv” alludes to the site of the bris milah. The soul is connected and partnered with the body.

The early mystical work Sefer Yetzirah3 writes that there are actually two covenants: a covenant of speech, and the covenant of circumcision. “When Abraham our father looked…G-d made a covenant between the ten fingers of his hands – this is the covenant of the tongue, and between the ten toes of his feet – this is the covenant of circumcision, and G-d bound the 22 letters of the Torah…”

A fascinating observation is made by Ohr Tzvi. The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet can map to the body. Starting with the toes of the right foot, those letters represent א-ה. The next letter vuv, “ו”, is the “covenant between the toes” or the place of circumcision between the legs. If we continue to count the next five toes of the left foot, these are then aligned with ז-כ. The count then moves to the five fingers of the right hand ל-ע, and then to the mouth which is between the hands, which correlates with the Hebrew letter פה, which actually means mouth and represents the covenant of the tongue. We conclude with the five fingers of the left hand צ-ת. So all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are represented on the the body. And this connects the covenant of the tongue with the covenant of circumcision.

The Talmud4 relates that right before Rebbe, the redactor of the Mishna, passed away, “he raised his ten fingers toward Heaven and said: Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that I toiled with my ten fingers in the Torah, and I have not derived any benefit from the world even with my small finger.” Reb Tzodok HaKohen explains this Gemara as a reference to being faithful to the covenant.5

The holiness of circumcision is dependent on speech. The numerical value of פה / mouth is equal to that of מילה / circumcision. King David writes in Psalms “grace/chein is poured on to your lips.” (Psalm 45:3) Perfection of speech requires mastering how to speak, when appropriate, but also mastering when to be silent.6 Noach found grace and was called “perfect” in his generation. He is also praised for his use of sensitive speech.7 However, he was deficient in that he didn’t use language to help those around him to improve themselves and be saved from the flood.

The Magid points out that the measurements that the Torah gives for Noah’s ark: 30, 300, and 50 spell “לשן”, speech/tongue — but the word is missing the “ו”, vuv. Noah wasn’t connecting to others through speech the way he should have, and in the end that manifests in a defilement of his body.8

Correctly using our mouth involves both putting words out into the world through speech, and silence in holding words back. This dynamic of expansion and containment is reflected in the two covenants. Rashi says that G-d’s name E-l Shaddai is the name of G-d used in the passage about circumcision because there is די / dai  (sufficient) divinity for all. Yet the Talmud9 relates that the dai in the name E-l Shaddai is also in the context of G-d saying to the creation of the world: “that is enough.”  How can the same name of G-d refer both to G-d’s relationship with the world as limitless but also contained?

Chein / grace is produced by expanding the holiness of our spiritual connections, elevating the mundane and each other, while minimizing the physical that could be in opposition with the spiritual. Pursuing perfection comes from increasing our awareness of the Divine Presence, knowing that when we attach ourselves to G-d, we are made for each other.

 

1. Rashi here shares an interpretation that this verse is referring to the commandment to be circumcised.
2. Yoma 28a
3. Sefer Yetzirah 6:7
4. Bavli Ketubot 104a
5. Takanas HaShavin
6. Sefas Emes succot
7. Pesachim 3a
8. Genesis 20:9
9. Chagigah 12a

 

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English. Deepest thanks to Rabbi Juan Mejia for translation.

 

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

 

Shalom javerim.  Espero que sus Altas Fiestas hayan sido dulces y significativas.

En este mes, llega la fiesta de Simjat Torá, cuyo nombre significa “la alegría de la Torá.”  Cuando leemos la Torá todos los sábados, leemos todas las porciones de la Torá salvo la última, la cual se llama “Vezot Haberajá”, “ésta es la bendición.”  Esta porción final de la Torá contiene la última bendición que Moisés da a los Hijos de Israel y la muerte de Moisés mismo.  Esta porción no es leída en Shabbat, sino en Simjat Torá.

Y al leerla hacemos algo inesperado: pasamos inmediatamente del final de la Torá al comienzo.  Pasamos de la muerte de Moises a final de Deuteronomio directamente a la creación del Cosmos al comienzo del Génesis.  ¿Tal vez se pregunten por qué?

Una respuesta es que la muerte de Moisés es una historia triste.  La Torá nos dice: “Nunca más se alzó un profeta como Moisés.” Moisés fue nuestro más grande profeta, y ahora se ha ido.  Los sabios de nuestra tradición no querían dejarnos en la tristeza de esa pérdida.  Así que nos instruyeron a seguir inmediatamente con el comienzo del Génesis. Esto nos recuerda que esa pérdida no es el final de la historia– de ninguna historia. Todo final ofrece un nuevo comienzo. 

Otra respuesta es que al conectar el final de nuestra historia con el comienzo de nuestra historia aprendemos algo profundo sobre la tradición judía y sobre la Toŕa misma.

La última letra de la Torá es lamed, la cual termina la palabra Yisrael, nuestro nombre como comunidad y como pueblo.  La primera letra de la Torá es la letra bet, la cual comienza la palabra Bereshit.  “En el comienzo”, o “en un comienzo” o “al comenzar Dios a crear el cielo y la tierra…”

Cuando viajamos del final de la Torá al comienzo de la Torá, la última lamed y la primera bet, forman la palabra “lev”, “corazón”. El corazón de la Torá encontramos el amor.

Esta es una metáfora. ¡Y también es la simple y llana verdad! El verso que aparece en la mitad del libro medio del rollo es “amarás a tu prójimo como a ti mismo.”  Esta es llamada a veces “la mitzvá del Creador”.  Todas las 613 mitzvot vienen de Dios, pero esta ocupa un lugar especial en la tradición porque es, literalmente, el corazón de la Torá.  Esta mitzvá evoca el acto original de creación de DIos – un acto motivado, dicen nuestros místicos, por el amor y el deseo de estar en relación con nosotros.

En Simjat Torá conectamos el final con el comienzo y encontramos “lev”: el corazón amante de la Torá.

Hay amor en nuestros finales y hay amor en nuestros comienzos.  Hay amor que nos conecta con la Torá y amor que nos conecta los unos con los otros.  Hay amor en nuestro ocuparnos los unos de los otros y ocuparnos de nuestras tradiciones.  Como Rebekah Langus nos enseñó cuando visitamos Cienfuegos el otoño pasado, la labor de mantener una comunidad judía es una labor de amor.  Si nos ocupamos de nuestros semejantes y de nuestras tradiciones en soledad, corremos el riesgo de caer en el resentimiento y el cansancio.  Pero cuando nos ocupamos los unos de los otros y de nuestras tradiciones con amor, entonces este cuidado nos eleva colectivamente. 

En Simjat Torá, nos alegramos por el amor por nuestra historia compartida. Nos alegramos por el amor que llena nuestra historia compartida. Nos alegramos en nuestra habilidad de comenzar nuestra historia de nuevo al comenzar un nuevo año.  Y nos alegramos en la habilidad de superar el dolor para poder comenzar de nuevo, del ir del caos a crear algo nuevo con nuestros corazones y nuestras manos.  Esta es la tarea de la vida espiritual, y es la labor que ustedes conocen muy bien. 

Aun cuando comenzamos con ruptura, pérdida o caos, podemos construir algo mucho mejor con amor.  Tal vez ésta sea la bendición a la cual hace referencia el nombre de la última porción de la Torá: Vezot Haberajá.  No importa cuántas peŕdidas tengamos en nuestra historia, no importa cuáles sean nuestros desafíos, siempre podemos comenzar de nuevo, juntos, con amor. 

Que así sea en este nuevo año, para ustedes y para todos nosotros. 

 

 

Shalom chaverim! I hope your High Holidays were meaningful and sweet.

This month we reach the festival of Simchat Torah, whose name means “Rejoicing in the Torah.” When we read the Torah week by week, we read every Torah portion except for the final one, which is called V’Zot Ha-Brakha, “This Is The Blessing.” That final Torah portion contains the final blessing that Moses gives to the children of Israel, and it contains the death of Moses. We do not read this Torah portion on Shabbat. We only read it at Simchat Torah. 

And we do something strange when we read it: we move immediately from the end of Torah to the beginning. We go from Moses’ death at the end of Deuteronomy directly to the creation of the cosmos at the start of Genesis. Maybe some of you are wondering: why? 

One answer is that the death of Moses is a sad story. Torah tells us “Never again did there arise a prophet like Moses.” Moses was our greatest prophet, and now he is gone. The sages of our tradition didn’t want to leave us in the sadness of that loss. So they instructed us to move directly from there to the start of Genesis. This reminds us that loss is not the end of the story — any story. Every ending can also be a new beginning.

Another answer is that in linking the end of our story with the beginning of our story, we learn something deep about Jewish tradition and about Torah itself. 

The final letter in the Torah is the letter lamed, which ends the word Yisrael, our name as a community and a people. The first letter in the Torah is the letter bet, which begins the word B’reishit, “In the beginning,” or “in a beginning,” or “as God was beginning to create heavens and earth…” 

When we move from Torah’s end to Torah’s beginning, the closing lamed and opening bet form the word lev, “heart.” The heart of Torah is love. 

This is a metaphor. And it is also plain truth! The verse that appears in the very middle of the middle book of the scroll is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is sometimes called The Mitzvah Of The Creator. All 613 mitzvot come from God, but this one occupies a special place in the tradition because it is literally at Torah’s heart. This mitzvah evokes God’s initial act of creation — motivated, our mystics say, by love, and by the desire to be in relationship with us.

At Simchat Torah we link ending with beginning and find lev, Torah’s loving heart. 

There is love in our endings and love in our beginnings. There is love in what connects us with Torah, and love in what connects us with each other. There is love in our care for each other and our care for our traditions. As Rebekah Langus taught us when we visited Cienfuegos last autumn, the work of sustaining Jewish community is the work of love. If we tend to each other and our traditions out of duty alone, we may become resentful and depleted. But when we care for each other and for our traditions with love, then that care lifts us up together. 

At Simchat Torah, we rejoice in our love of our shared story. We rejoice in the love that fills our shared story. We rejoice in our ability to begin our story again as we begin a new year. And we rejoice in our ability to move from loss to starting over, from chaos to creating something new with our own hearts and hands. This is the work of spiritual life, and it is work that you know well. 

Even when we begin with brokenness, or loss, or chaos, we can build something better together with love. Maybe this is the blessing referenced in that final Torah portion’s name, V’Zot Ha-Bracha. No matter what losses are in our story, no matter what challenges are in our story, we always get to begin again, together, with love. 

May it be so in this new year, for you and for us all.

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Martyrology slides for Yom Kippur from R’ Evan Krame

From founding builder R’ Evan Krame comes this set of slides for the martyrology service which in many synagogues is an integral part of Yom Kippur. He highlights twentieth century female martyr Marie Schmolka as a way of honoring  people who gave their all to build a better future.

These slides are suitable to use with your own adaptation of Holy at Home, or with whatever slide deck you’re using for Zoom high holidays this year.

Download the slides and teaching here:

 

 

By Rabbi Evan J. Krame.

Ushpizin: liturgy for Sukkot in time of covid

Sukkot this year will be unlike any other. Some of us won’t be able to safely build a sukkah; others will find in the sukkah the outdoor safety that indoor ventilation doesn’t provide. What does it mean to invite ancestors when we can’t invite guests in person? With what, or whom, (or Whom!) are we sitting when we dwell in our sukkot this year — whether our sukkot be literal or metaphorical? What structures can we build liturgically and spiritually to protect us in these vulnerable times? Four liturgists from within and beyond the denominations collaborated on this set of offerings from Bayit to accompany us through this year’s festival. Here are excerpts; you can download the whole collection at the end of the post.

 

0. This Year’s Sukkah – With Words, by Rachel Barenblat and David Evan Markus, with illustration by Steve Silbert:

We build this year’s sukkah with words. Our words keep us company.  We read the words of this Teaching: this Teaching gathers us in…

1. Invitation to the Builders / Invitation to my Virtual Sukkah by Trisha Arlin:

…You are invited,
Builders of our past sukkot
In the backyard, the park, the roof:
Every year
You put up the walls
You hung the decorations.
Where are you this week?…

2. Far Away So Close by Rachel Barenblat:

…How can I welcome Abraham
and Sarah, David and
Rachel, when I can’t welcome
my own neighbors?…

3. UnSukkah by David Evan Markus:

We don’t build our sukkah with nails
Sharply hammered into sturdy place.

We don’t build our sukkah with roof shingles
And sustainable solar panels for midnight light…

4. In the Open by Sonja Keren Pilz:

Vulnerable
Under the open sky.

The air gets thinner;
Canadian geese fly by…

5. Sitting in Emptiness by Trisha Arlin:

On Sukkot, we sit in the sukkah:
In an empty room
Porous walls
Holes in the ceiling
No door…

6. Sit With Me / Not Alone by Rachel Barenblat:

…The safest companion in times of covid:
Myself. Or you, Holy One:
dressed for the season in worn jeans
and flannel shirt, and maybe flip-flops
reluctant to let summer end…

7. Sitting neither Here nor There by Sonja Keren Pilz:

We used to sit, huddled together,
Sharing blankets, often too cold.
We used to drink,
Hot tea or cider,
Passing the water, the soda, the coke…

8. Tomorrow Again (for Shemini Atzeret) by David Evan Markus:

This is the breezy feeling I hope to remember
Starting tomorrow when beginning begins again

Pulsing reborn from the jumble of these many months
Left on pandemic ground to decay as pungent compost

For the first daring shoots of next year’s who-knows…

9. Simchat Torah, by the ensemble together:

We dance by ourselves.
We dance in our living rooms with Sefaria on our phones.
We dance in the falling rain.
We dance cradling toddlers, or dogs, or emptiness…

Download the whole collection here: Ushpizin [PDF]

 

Prayers by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi David Evan Markus, and Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz. Sketchnote by Steve Silbert.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 

Shalom javerim, 

En nuestro calendario laico es septiembre. En el calendario judío, estamos en el mes de Elul, el mes que nos conduce a las altas fiestas. 

Algunos enseñan que durante este mes debemos reparar nuestra relación con Dios y con la tradición judía, para que en los diez días de teshuvá entre Rosh Hashaná y Yom Kippur podamos reparar las relaciones entre nosotros. 

¡Otros enseñan que durante este mes, debemos reparar las relaciones entre nosotros para que durante los diez días de Teshuvá podamos reparar nuestra relación con Dios!

En ambos casos, esta es una época para la introspección y para discernir cómo debemos cambiar en el año por venir. 

En Rosh Hashaná el mundo vuelve a comenzar.  El nuevo año trae nuevas oportunidades para escoger: ¿Qué persona queremos ser? ¿Cuál será nuestra relación con la tradición judía y con nuestra Fuente?  ¿Cómo serán nuestra relación con los demás?

Las terribles realidades del coronavirus nos recuerdan que las acciones y elecciones de cada persona pueden afectar a toda la comunidad.  Hemos aprendido cuán fácilmente este virus se esparce, aún por personas que no saben que son portadores. 

Mis elecciones y comportamientos no sólo ponen en riesgo mi salud y mi seguridad sino la de mi familia y mi comunidad y la de todos a mi alrededor.  Porque todos estamos interconectados. 

Esta interconexión es lo que me da esperanza al aproximarnos al nuevo año.

Si trabajamos juntos podemos usar esta interconexión para lograr grandes cosas.  Detener la expansión del virus.  Protegernos los unos a los otros.  Ayudarnos los unos a los otros. Compartir y elevarnos los unos a los otros. 

El Talmud enseña “kol Israel arevim ze bazé” “todo el pueblo de Israel es responsable el uno del otro.”  Es decir, nosotros.  Somos descendientes de Jacob, quien se volvió Israel cuando luchó toda la noche con el ángel y recibió un nuevo nombre al alba.  Somos responsables el uno del otro.  Es nuestro trabajo ocuparnos de los demás en cualquier forma que podamos, porque estamos interconectados.

En Cuba, el otoño pasado presencié la fuerza y conexión de sus comunidades. Ustedes no necesitan el Talmud para saber que son responsables el uno del otro: ustedes lo viven, por quiénes son y por cómo viven.

He aquí otra cosa que me da esperanza: la interconexión más fundamental es verdadera, estemos o no estemos juntos en persona. 

Por supuesto que quiero abrazar a mis seres amados distantes en este momento.  He estado extrañando esos abrazos por meses.  Pero el amor que nos tenemos dura aún cuando no nos podemos tocar.  Del mismo modo que mi cariño por ustedes perdura, aún cuando no puedo estar presente con ustedes. 

Todos los días de Elul, hay una costumbre de rezar el Salmo 27.  Al final de éste viene el siguiente versículo: “Confía en Dios, mantén tu fuerza, abre tu corazón y confía en Dios.”

Nuestra tarea en esta época de teshuvá es aferrarnos a la esperanza.  Fortalecernos, abrir nuestros corazones el uno al otro y aferrarnos a la esperanza.  Aún en tiempos de pandemia o dificultad, aún cuando el mundo a nuestro alrededor parece carecer de sentido. 

La palabra hebrea “teshuvá” es muchas veces traducida como “arrepentimiento” y a veces como “retorno”.  Esta temporada nos llama a retornar a nuestro más alto y mejor ser. Las torá nos recuerda que la teshuvá no se encuentra en el cielo o más allá del mar, donde no podemos alcanzarla.  La teshuvá está muy cerca, en nuestros corazones. 

Y nuestros corazones saben que nuestra tarea en estos tiempos de pandemia es cuidar los unos de los otros.  Porque lo que acaece a una persona impacta al resto.  Porque nuestra interconexión nos hace fuertes, nos transforma en una comunidad, aún cuando estamos lejos. 

Que este nuevo año traiga salud, prosperidad, seguridad y dulzura para todos. 

 

Shalom chaverim.

On the secular calendar it is September. On the Jewish calendar, we are in the month of Elul, the month that leads us to the Days of Awe. 

Some teach that during this month, we should repair our relationship with God and with Jewish tradition, so that during the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can repair our relationships with each other.

And others teach that during this month, we should repair our relationships with each other, so that during the Ten Days of Teshuvah we can repair our relationship with God!

Either way, this is a season for looking inward and discerning how we need to change in the year ahead.

At Rosh Hashanah, the whole world gets to begin again. A new year brings new opportunities to choose. Who do we want to be? What will be our relationship with our Jewish tradition and with out Source? What will be our relationship with each other?

The terrible realities of the coronavirus remind us that each person’s actions and choices can impact the whole community. We have learned how easily this virus can spread, even through people who do not know they are carriers.

My choices and behaviors risk not only my own health and safety, but that of my family, and my community, and everyone around me. Because we are interconnected.

That interconnectedness is what brings me hope as we approach the new year.

If we work together, we can use our interconnectedness to do great things. To stop the spread of the virus. To protect each other. To help each other. To care for each other. To share with each other and uplift each other.

Talmud teaches “kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” “all of Israel is responsible for one another.” That means us. We are the spiritual descendants of Jacob, who became Yisrael when he wrestled all night with an angel and at dawn received his new name. We are responsible for one another. It’s our job to take care of each other in whatever ways we can. Because we are interconnected.

In Cuba last fall I witnessed the strength and connectedness of your communities. You don’t need Talmud to tell you that we are responsible for one another: you live it, because of who you are and how you are.

Here is another thing that brings me hope: our most fundamental interconnectedness is true, whether or not we are together in person.

Yes, of course, I want to hug my far-away loved ones right now. I have been aching for those hugs for months. But the love between us endures even when we can’t touch. Just as the caring I feel for you endures, even when I am unable to be with you in person.

It is traditional to pray Psalm 27 every day during Elul. At the end of that psalm comes the verse, “Keep hope in God; keep strong, and open your heart wide, and keep hope in God!”

Our task in this season of teshuvah is to hold on to hope. To stay strong, to open our hearts to each other, and to hold on to hope. Even in times of pandemic or hardship, even when the world around us may seem hopeless.

The Hebrew word teshuvah is sometimes translated as repentance, and sometimes as returning. This season calls us to return to our highest and best selves. Torah reminds us: teshuvah is not in the heavens, or across the sea, where we cannot reach it. Teshuvah is as near as our own hearts. 

And our hearts know that our task in this pandemic time is to take care of each other. Because what happens to one person impacts the whole. Because our interconnectedness makes us strong, and makes us into a community, even when we are apart.

May the new year that is coming bring health and prosperity, safety and sweetness for us all.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Why Shabbes Matters… Especially Now

When we “went in” (started sheltering-in-place) for covid-19 in New York, I thought we were going in for a few weeks.  I’ve been more-in-than-out now for five months. 

I am a lay service leader for my congregation, and I typically co-lead one Kabbalat Shabbat each month.  Our little shul is a small but mighty group; a mixed mini-tude.  By March 13 (the first Shabbat of sheltering-in-place), we were ready — more or less — for Shabbat on zoom.  Our Rabbi led us that night, and the following week was my turn.  We have continued to pray Kabbalat Shabbat with Maariv on Zoom since then.  And like most communities, we’re preparing for Zoom-based high holidays now too. (By “we,” I mean our rabbi and rabbi emerita.)

It’s been quite an adjustment.  Although I have joked about buying a t-shirt that says, “you’re muted,” I have not done so yet.  We are working on making services as meaningful and uplifting as can be; we are working on looking into the camera while hitting the right chords on the ukulele; we are adjusting to hearing either one voice or a cacophony, never a harmony.  (By “we,” I mean me.)

As a group, we are finding we like seeing each other’s faces in our Brady Bunch array.  We visit before and after services.  A core group has started to do Havdalah every week, led mostly by me.  It’s a quick service but sometimes we watch a movie afterwards, or just talk. I wrote some new lyrics for a silly Shavua Tov song.  It’s to the tune of the Addams Family (snap, snap).

Associate professors work hard; we are the backbone of every university. In the pandemic, as we shifted to fully online instruction, I was working very hard.  Even without my commute, I felt the days were endless.  Sometimes I zoomed for too many hours in a row and the next day felt half dead.  My eyes hurt; my back hurt; my heart was breaking over and over. I was worried about so many things. The emails were endless and many of them were filled with bad news, confusing instructions, or repeated information.

So, I started a mini-observance of Shabbat.  I shut my work email just before we went into zoom for Kabbalat Shabbat and did not open it again until Sunday morning.  I closed it on my laptop and on my phone.  Just that one action, protecting myself from work for the duration of Shabbes, was a balm.  I took Saturday to relax.  Sometimes I went to Saturday morning Torah study; sometimes I took a walk; in July and August, I relaxed by the community pool, swam a little. I read, I napped. I rested.  

I did not go full-on shomer Shabbes in the classical sense.  I still used the internet and TV.  But after a few weeks, I found I did not want too much news or twitter on Shabbes either.  I did things that are officially on traditional halakha’s list of “work,” like writing.  But I did not make shopping lists, or to-do lists, or write letters to politicians.  I doodled.  I drew. I wrote songs.  I did things that fed me, even if they were officially not Shabbesdik.  They felt Shabbesdik to me.

Did I mention the professor part?  I did not mention the procrastination, though.  Suddenly, in August, I found myself up against a grading deadline.  I had to get the grades to a colleague by Sunday morning.  I could not let her down. As Friday sank into Friday night, I was not done.  I was not even close.  Waiting until after Havdalah would not be an option—there was too much to get through.  My all-nighter days are behind me.  I was looking at grading papers on Shabbat.  Well, I told myself, it’s not like I’m really a sabbath observer…I just have some sort of covid shabbes habit going on.  I’ve graded papers on Saturday before.  It’s not really a big deal.  Right?

It did feel like a big deal.  I was stuck in my chair all day, reading, checking, marking it down, trying to concentrate.  I got the grades done, and I did go to morning Torah class, but by the time Havdalah rolled around, I was realizing that I really missed out on my Shabbes rest. I really felt it.  By Tuesday, I was asking myself, when’s Shabbes already?  

That one weekend of needing to work on Saturday made me realize that my little Shabbat observance is a real thing. I turned off my email for Shabbes and it was the best click of the week.  It  turns out, I really need that rest every week.  Shabbes is a thing.  You should get some.  During the pandemic… and beyond.

 

 

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz is an associate professor of Communication Disorders and a speech-language pathologist. She serves as a lay service leader and trustee at Temple Beth El of City Island, NY, also known as “your shul by the sea.”

Zooming In the New Year

Here’s a sketchnote from Steve Silbert illustrating Bayit’s tips and suggestions for how to make the most out of this year’s Zoom Days of Awe:

Sketchnote of tips for t

 

And here’s a short video from founding builder R’ Rachel Barenblat on the same theme:

If you’d rather read about creating sacred space at home, instead of watching it on YouTube, you can find the text here at Rachel’s congregational blog.

 

 

 

Sketchnote by Steve Silbert; YouTube video by R’ Rachel Barenblat.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Sunny Schnitzer

Palabras del Torá Agosto 2020 from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 


Hola mis amigos

Primero, permítame enviarle nuestra admiración por el pueblo cubano que ha hecho lo que Estados Unidos no ha podido hacer: controlar la pandemia del coronavirus. Esto se debe a la disciplina y la dedicación de los cubanos entre sí, a la comunidad. Kol Hakavod.

Sé que estos son los momentos más difíciles en Cuba. La privación económica y la incertidumbre lo socava todo.

Parece que el centro se está derrumbando.

Los judíos sabemos mucho acerca de perder nuestro centro.

Acabamos de pasar por Tisha B’av, el día más negro del calendario hebreo tradicional. Lloramos la destrucción del centro de la vida judía, Jerusalén. Lloramos las cosas que hemos perdido.

En nuestro viaje al punto más bajo de la vida espiritual judía nos llevó a través de Shabat Hazon, el Shabat de la Visión.

Tristemente, la visión que recibimos en nuestra Haftarah, del Profeta Isaías, es una visión de destrucción, miseria y muerte.

“¿Qué golpe caerá después, a medida que se desate más y más violencia y corrupción en la tierra? Si la nación fuera un cuerpo, toda la cabeza estaría enferma y todo el corazón se desmayaría;

Desde la planta del pie, incluso hasta la cabeza, no hay solidez en él; pero heridas, contusiones y llagas supurantes: no han sido tratadas, ni vendadas ni calmadas con medicamentos.

Tu país está desolado; tus ciudades se queman con fuego; los extraños devoran tu tierra en tu presencia, y está desolada.”

Es inquietante escuchar estas palabras pronunciadas hace dos mil quinientos años y mirar a nuestro alrededor hoy.

Pero la visión de Isaías nos recuerda también que nuestra tarea es trabajar por la salud y la paz.

Ahora, después de Tisha B’av, nos reunimos no solo para llorar lo que fue, sino también para aprender de él: para preguntar cómo llegamos aquí y ¿qué haremos ahora con lo que sabemos?

Debido a que hemos sobrevivido a tantas destrucciones en nuestra historia, el pueblo judío sabe mejor que cualquier otro que la humanidad es una. Nosotros, el pueblo judío y nuestro Dios, somos uno. El eterno Ejad.

El coronavirus no conoce límites ni fronteras. Nos está sucediendo a todos.

No hay “ellos”, solo somos nosotros y ninguno de nosotros está solo en esta lucha.

No sabemos qué pasará después en nuestro viaje por el Valle de la Sombra de la Muerte del Coronavirus. No sabemos lo que hay del otro lado.

Pero sí sabemos esto.

Después de Tisha B’av estamos en una trayectoria ascendente a las alturas de la alegría. El momento en que somos más íntimos con HaShem, Rosh Hashaná y Iom Kipur. El viaje desde nuestro punto más bajo al más alto ocurre relativamente rápido, cuarenta nueve días desde abajo hacia arriba. Siete días por siete. Siete es el número de creación.

HaShem siempre está creando algo nuevo para nosotros. Tendremos fe en nuestra historia, fe en los demás y fe en que el cambio siempre llega.

Si bien el tiempo es diferente para los seres humanos que para Dios, y para nosotros, los mortales, puede parecer que el cambio es lento, para Dios, una vida humana no es más que un abrir y cerrar de ojos.

Que algún día miremos hacia atrás a este momento y descubramos que esta fue nuestra experiencia también.


Hola Mis Amigos.

First, let me send to you our admiration for the Cuban people who have done what the United States has been unable to do – to control the pandemic of Coronavirus. It is because of the discipline, and dedication of Cubans to each other, to community, that you have achieved this. Kol Hakavod.

I know that these are the most difficult of times in Cuba. The economic deprivation and uncertainty undermines everything.

It seems that the center is collapsing.

We Jews know much about losing our center.

We have just come through Tisha B’av, the blackest day on the traditional Hebrew calendar. We mourn the destruction of the center of Jewish life, Jerusalem. We mourn the things we have lost.

On our journey to the bottom of Jewish spiritual life took us through Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of Vision. Sadly, the vision we receive in our Haftarah, from the Prophet Isaiah, is a vision of destruction, misery, and death.

“What blow will fall next, as more and more violence and corruption is unleashed in the land? If the nation were a body, the whole head would be sick, and the whole heart faint;

From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and festering sores: they have not been treated, not bandaged nor soothed with medication.

Your country is desolate; your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence, and it is desolate.”

It is haunting to listen to these words spoken twenty five hundred years ago and look around us today.

But the vision of Isaiah reminds us also that our task is to work for health and peace.

Now, after Tisha B’av, we gather not only to mourn what was, but also to learn from it: to ask how did we get here, and what shall we do now with what we know?

Because we have survived so many destructions in our history, the Jewish people know better than any other that humanity is one. We the Jewish people and our God are one. The eternal Ejad.

Coronavirus knows no boundaries and no borders. It is happening to all of us.

There is no “them” there is only us and none of us is alone in this struggle.

We don’t know what happens next in our journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death of Coronavirus. We do not know what is on the other side.

But we do know this.

After Tisha B’av we are on an upward trajectory to the heights of joy. The time when we are most intimate with HaShem, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The journey from our lowest point to the highest happens relatively quickly, 49 nine days from the bottom to the top. Seven days times seven. Seven is the number of creation.

HaShem is always creating something new for us. We will have faith in our history, faith in each other, and faith that change always comes.

While time is different for human beings than it is for God, and it may seem to we mortals that change is slow, to God, a human lifetime is but the blink of an eye.

May we someday look back to this moment and find that this was our experience too.

 


Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer

By Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer.