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Archive for Octubre de 2016

Our Jewish lives are governed by cycles. The daily cycle leads to a weekly cycle, follows on to a monthly cycle, which builds towards a yearly cycle. One way in which we measure this yearly cycle is through the reading of the Torah. So, once again we have arrived at the beginning.

This coming Shabbat, we begin the cycle of the Torah anew when we read Parashat Bereshit. There are many ideas about the beginning of our story, from the philosophical (what existed before God created the world) to the historical/theologicial (how am I to read this story when it conflicts with what I know to be true in a scientific sense).

We can also look at it from a midrashic perspective. Our rabbis have asked the question; why does the Torah begin with the letter bet, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet? Surely, it would make much more sense for the text to have started with the letter aleph, the first letter! There have been several reasons brought forth by the rabbinic commentators throughout the ages; for example, that aleph, which has the numerical value of one, represents God. One of the more compelling ones I’ve come across gives a fresh take on what the letter aleph represents. In the vast majority of cases, the letter aleph is synonymous with the number one and thus God. But, what if the letter aleph was not representing God, but ourselves? The letter which we must master is ourselves. We are the aleph.

What does this mean? As we have just come out of the High Holiday Season, we have spent the better part of a month looking inward, reflecting and coming to terms with ourselves and all that we have done in the past year. It is a marathon session of internal struggle that, hopefully leads to a clearer picture of who you want to be in the coming year. It is precisely at that moment, when the holidays finish, that we immediately set to work.

To assist us in that work, the Torah, our great instruction manual, is restarted. Because we have done the preliminary work, the aleph, then and only then, can we move on to bet. We are reminded to not let the hard work of the past month go to waste. There is a step by step progression, like the letters of the aleph bet, that will lead us on the right path. All we must do is continue putting one foot forward in front of the other and continue the work we started over a month ago.

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This week we are in the midst of the festival of Sukkot and no matter what time of the year Sukkot falls, whether it is early or late, it always seems to rain. It coincides with the beginning of the rainy season in Israel, and reminds us that water played an important part in the ancient Temple ceremonies. Simchat Beit Ha-Shoeivah,Rejoicing at the House of the Water Drawing’, was one of the most lively Sukkot celebrations in the Second Temple. On festival mornings, a procession would make its way to the spring of Shiloach outside Jerusalem. There, a golden flagon was filled with water. As the people returned to the city, the shofar was blown at the Water Gate. At the Temple, a priest would transfer the water into a silver bowl, from which it could be poured onto the altar as a libation.

From the second night of Sukkot, great celebrations took place in the Womens’ Court outside the Temple. Priests lit three golden menorot, ‘and there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect the light of the Beit Ha-Shoeivah’ (Mishnah Sukkah 5:2-3). Throughout the night, the people would dance, sing, perform acrobatics and feats of torch-throwing, and scholars would juggle. The celebration ended when loud blasts of the shofar announced a new day.

The name of the ceremony, Simchat Beit Ha’Shoeivah, probably came from a verse in the book of Isaiah (12:3): ‘Joyfully shall you draw water from the wells of salvation’.

According to Jewish tradition, at Sukkot, God determines how much rain will fall in the year ahead, and the festival is, therefore, an auspicious occasion on which to ask for the blessing of water. In our Liberal tradition, we now include the blessing for rain in our daily prayers all year round, but, traditionally, it is first recited on Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Sukkot, and continues till Pesach.

The four species that we wave on Sukkot, have also been associated with water. The palm trees from which the lulav comes, it is said, grow in valleys where there is plenty of water. Willows and myrtles both thrive near the water, and the etrog needs more water than any other plant to grow. When you hear the lulav being waved, it may help to close your eyes and listen to the sound. See if you can hear the drops of rain falling on the trees.

One of the names by which Sukkot was known in biblical times, indicating its importance in the calendar, was he-chag, literally ‘the festival’. Sukkot is also known asz’man simchateinu, ‘the time of our happiness’. The celebrations and water ceremonies that took place in ancient times were centered around the Temple. After the Temple was destroyed, the sages of the Babylonian Talmud wistfully remarked, ‘Anyone who has not seen the Rejoicing at the Place of the Water Drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life’ (Sukkah 51a).

Joy is a gift from God, as we are reminded several times in the book of Ecclesiastes, Kohelet, which is read at Sukkot.

          ‘There is no greater good for humankind than eating and drinking and giving oneself                joy in one’s labour. Indeed, I have seen that this is from the hand of God…’ (2:24).

Kohelet also writes,

          ‘I know that there is no other good in life but to be happy while one lives. Indeed, every            person who eats, drinks and enjoys happiness… that is the gift of God’ (3:12).

Sukkot is another way of imprinting on our hearts the things we resolved so seriously at Yom Kippur, a way of reinforcing them with joy. May we be blessed with joy and happiness on this festival and in the coming year, and may God spread over all of us סוכת שלום a shelter of peace.

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Moshe begins his dramatic final song to the Children of Israel by invoking the heavens to listen and the earth to hear.

The Sages teach that each person has two poles, an earthly body, made of dust (nefesh chaya); and a divine soul made of spirit (nefesh elohi). Both are needed to make up a complete human being, alive on earth. Both are holy in their own way – being part of the divine creation.

When Moshe speaks to the people, he calls on them to listen deeply, with their body and their soul – with the earth aspect of themselves and the heavenly aspect. To really be heard, Moshe needs the people to hear from the different levels of their being. We often think of God as being connected to non-physicality, to the heavens.

Yet in this parasha, not only does Moshe call on the heavens and the earth to hear his words, Moshe repeatedly refers to God as Tsur, “The Rock”. God is:

The Rock whose deeds are perfect;

The Rock of Salvation;

The Rock that gave birth to us.

This could be seen as being connected to the concept of Gaia, the earth as a living organism with its own consciousness and the idea in other spiritual traditions of a mother earth. Of course, God is One, and yet, God has many divine aspects of which mother earth is one. At the end of our parasha, God instructs Moshe to ascend the mountain, look from a distance at the Land of Israel, for which he longs, and prepare to die and be “gathered to his people”.

Why does this happen on a mountain? Because a mountain is a piece of earth that is closest to the heavens. It symbolizes the possibility of heaven and earth being connected, both valued and in harmony with each other.

When we recognize the holiness in The Rock, in the earth, and in our physical body as well as recognizing the holiness in the heavens and the spiritual part of ourselves we can harmonize between the two and gain a higher level of shalom.

May this New Year be a healthy one, for the earth and the sky for your body and your soul.

As we transition into the Festival of Sukkot (time of happiness – zman simchateinu), may we really feel the joy of welcoming others and being welcomed by others.

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The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuvah, based on the first word from the prophecy of Hosea, “Shuva, return”. Hoshea calls out, “Return, O Israel to the Lord your God.” This year, the Torah reading is from the Parashat Vayeilech, which tells us that Moses walked before the people, guiding them until his final breath in words of Torah. In this New Year, can follow in Moses’ footsteps, we can try to walk before and with others, to make a positive difference in this world and inspire others to do the same.

The return that is asked of us by Hosea is to the charge that was given to us by Moses as we wandered in the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land. There, when we first received Torah at Sinai, binding us in a covenant of service to God, Moses called upon us to be “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.” We were meant to be leaders among humanity in giving service to the life force, for that is ultimately what God, “the one”, is. We are called to be a faith people, a people whose awareness was formed in the cauldron of oppression, and whose consciousness calls us to a life of service. The revelation at Sinai followed the redemption from Egypt precisely to teach that as we were saved from destruction, so we must work for creation. These ten days of repentance, of return, as highlighted in the charge from Hosea, challenge us to return to that life of service, a life modeled by Moses, who “walked the walk” to his final breath.

In this holy community there are many people who walk the walk – feeding the hungry and homeless through a variety of communal organizations, advocating migrant rights, opening their homes to the stranger, providing transport for those with limited mobility, visiting the sick, and supporting many just causes through generous philanthropy. But each of us, as part of this holy community and holy people can still do more, can still do better. To enter a life of service by performing deeds of love gives us infinite possibilities of connection and meaning within our finite life.

Thus, in this New Year, we are hoping to further our work together with you to truly make a difference. We invite each of you to think of a way you may want to do service, give love, in this year ahead – from some of the ways mentioned above, to coming to a Shabbat morning minyan once or twice a year to support those in mourning, to welcoming others in the Synagogue on Friday night and Shabbat Morning, to whatever you imagine you can do for our community.

I want to invite you to write an email to the office with the way you wish to engage in holy work in this year ahead. If you know you want to give service, but are still unsure which is the best way, just ask and we will speak with you about opportunities. In the weeks ahead, we will then be in touch to work with you as we return to our heritage, our call, to be a holy nation, through our deeds bequeathing our heritage to the generations to follow. May we follow in Moses’ footsteps, and walk the walk of love and good deeds.

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