Posts Tagged ‘ Sonoma ’

Torah Study: Worshipful Wordplay

2011.08.19
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THERE ONCE WAS A RABBI who was so lost in his studies that when the congregation called on him to deliver a sermon for that week’s Torah portion he didn’t know which one it was. Undaunted, he stepped to the bimah and said:

“A sermon should be true, from the heart, and based on the weekly Torah portion. I do not know which portion is this week’s reading from our holy Torah. This is true, I am sorry from my heart, but it is all that I can say about the portion. Amen.”

This week’s portion is Eikev. It means “heel” and “because.” So “because” we’ve all had a tough week, you are cordially invited to help “heel” yourself by studying Torah with us tomorrow morning. This is true, it is from my heart, and I hope to say more about it when I see you.

Shabbat shalom,

Neal.

Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, August 20, 2011, 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3

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Torah Study: Deutero Is The Best Nomy

2011.08.05
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THIS WEEK BEGINS THE TALE of Moses, and his five-week testimonial to the nascent nation of Israel.

Unlike the Torah’s first four books, tradition ascribes Deuteronomy strictly to Moses’ hand. Like the second creation story in Genesis, the Moses-eye view of the Egyptian Experience and Sinai Event differs somewhat from the first account in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers: most famously, in the wording of the Fourth Commandment and the “guard/remember Shabbat” dichotomy. I like to think that’s deliberate, to encourage us to think instead of blindly obey. It’s certainly part of a pattern.
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OUR WEEKLY TORAH STUDY SHIFTS this week, as I am honored and privileged to lead Shabbat services tomorrow morning (Sat., 7/9/11) at Sonoma’s Congregation Shir Shalom. We will begin by looking at one of the Book of Numbers’ most action-packed portions: the tale of Bilaam the Evil Wizard. (Just typing “Evil Wizard” is a...

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Five Summer Haiku

2011.07.03
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(THESE WERE WRITTEN JUNE 21 on the unnetworked “writing laptop,” which I only mention to explain the last verse and thank you for not skipping ahead. And now, this.)

So soon the heat comes
after long weeks of spring rain.
Sweat follows storm drops.

Summer’s popsicle
And a pool to eat it by.
What more do you need?

Dappling sunlight
dances on the patio:
cool green tree cavern.

Lemonade tinkles
in an ice-filled glass alive
with summer music.

Roll out the bandstand
and strike up the musicians:
It’s summer solstice!

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Torah Study: Chukat and the Passing of the Cohort

2011.07.01
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WHEN JERRY GARCIA AND GENE Roddenberry died, I shed actual tears. Although I didn’t know either of them personally, they had both played important roles in my life — Jerry taught me to dance, Gene taught me to dream — and because of their role in the culture at large, their deaths were like the shutting of a communal door.

There’s a similar circumstance in this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, which notes — among other incidents — the deaths of Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron, themselves beloved by their community. Think what it must have been like for the Israelites: smacked out of Egypt by the back of God’s miracle-hand, given a new constitution beneath a thundering mountain, then doomed by ingratitude to wander the desert for 40 years. Moses, Aaron and Miriam were all the leadership they knew: Moses the mysterious, whose face glows when he talks to God; Aaron, who loved peace so much he’d even tell fibs to achieve it; Miriam, the wise woman whose portable well enabled life in the desert.
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Brian Farwell, A”H (RIP)

2011.06.09
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Brian Farwell A"H

MY FRIEND BRIAN FARWELL DIED May 25, and as his face was more familiar than his name to the folks in our little Anatevka-among-the-vines I volunteered to post his photo here. (This photo was taken in January 2010, at Congregation Shir Shalom‘s Tu B’Shevat seder; Brian was seated, as usual, next to then-Rabbi Jack Gabriel.) Like many of my friends, Brian faced some difficult challenges but he was a big man with a big heart and an unquenchable thirst for both knowledge and laughter. His funeral will be in Burlingame Hall at 11 a.m., Monday, June 20. May Brian be remembered among those aspiring to righteousness in Israel and the world.

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Torah Study: Naso, Nazir, and the Quest For What’s Had

2011.06.03
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Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, June 4, 2011, 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Naso (Deuteronomy 4:21-7:89)
Haftarah: Judges 13:2-25

WHAT DO A SPA, MEDITATION, prayer, music and this week’s Torah portion have in common?

One answer: They all describe ways of getting closer to God.

Among other topics (e.g., gifts, jealousy and leadership) our portion tells us about the “nazir:” a man or woman who wants to dedicate themselves more intensely to God. There are many reasons to feel distant from God, hence many reasons for wanting to draw near, but the nazir’s outward response is uniform: no haircuts, wine, or grape juice or grapes (even raisins!) for the duration of the nazirship. That duration ends when the nazir brings a sacrifice to the Temple — but since there’s currently no Temple, nazirship is an unobtainable ideal.

Parenthetically, of course, each one of us is already as close to God as we can possibly be. The trick of mystics and other self-actualizers is simply to notice it.

May your Shabbat be filled with unexpected and pleasant connections!

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Shalom, Mr Chips

2011.05.26
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IT’S NEVER EASY TO SAY “goodbye” — so I’ll say “thank you” instead.

Due to current synagogue economics and demographics, I won’t be teaching at Shir Shalom next year. Obviously, I have mixed feelings. But mostly, I would like to thank the parents of this community for allowing me to share the light of Torah and tradition with our next generation of Jews. (I would especially like to thank our now-former education director, Susan Jebrock, for hiring me in 2000.) It’s been a rewarding, terrifying, enlightening, fascinating and instructive 10 years, and both a privilege and an honor for me to serve in this fashion.

Of course, I will continue to be available as a Torah and liturgy tutor (for pre- or post-b’nei mitzvah students). And Ann & I will still hold “France Street Torah study” in our living room on alternate Saturday mornings.

The Talmudic-era Rabbi Chanina said, “I have learned much from my teachers, and I have learned more from my colleagues. But I have learned the most from my students.” Baruch Hashem, praise G?d, for letting me learn that too.

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Torah Study: Judaeo Habilis

2011.05.20
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Neal& Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, May 21, 2011 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Bechukotai (Deuteronomy 26:3-27:34[end])
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14

LET’S BE HONEST: THIS WEEK’S Torah portion is not a favorite of many, containing as it does a long string of violent curses brought down on the hearts and homes of those who reject Torah.

It’s grim stuff, even for the rabbis who ordained that this part be read quickly and quietly. And it makes us uncomfortable on several levels: the specificity, the cruelty, the seemingly primitive tit-for-tat which embodies, for many of us, the worst aspects of religion. It’s tempting to ignore, delete, or gloss over this bit of text and read only the “good parts” (whatever that may be to each of us). Read more »

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Torah Study: Emor The Merrier

2011.05.06
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Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23); Ezekiel 44:15-31
Saturday, May 7, 2011 – 10 am to noonish
Neal & Ann’s Home (Call 933.9430 for directions)

“It ain’t the matzah, it’s the motion.”

This phrase has been on my mind lately, now that we’ve passed from Passover into the Omer period leading up to Shavuot (marking the Sinai Event). We count off the days and nights in between, perhaps in part to remind ourselves that that freedom is a journey, not a destination; a process, not an ending.

This week’s Torah portion reflects that in a small way. We’re given all the major festivals — Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot — of which all but Rosh Hashana receive the names by which we still call them. Isn’t that odd? The “Jewish New Year,” one of the two occasions when modern Jews of all stripes feel compelled to attend synagogue services, is noted as “the first day of the seventh month … of blowing the shofar.” Its main importance seems to be a noisy, soul-waking prelude to Yom Kippur services.

Speaking of services, we also see some of the details of the Old Time Religion: e.g., how the ancient priests mourned their dead, how to keep the Menorah burning, and the mysterious meal Torah calls the “lechem panim — variously translated as “show bread” or “bread of surfaces.”

This food is enigmatic even to the commentators. Some say it’s a remembrance of the manna; others see it as a symbol of prosperity balancing the Menorah (which sits opposite it inside the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, and symbolizes Torah wisdom). Pirke Avot, the book of rabbinic proverbs, says: “No bread, no Torah; no Torah, no bread,” tells us. History doesn’t record whether that saying was inspired by the showbread, but both he and the Torah seem to agree. Perhaps it also means that there can be no soul without a body; no content without form; no Torah without someone to study it.

And speaking of Pirke Avot and the road from Peasach to Shavuot: It’s customary to study a chapter of Pirke Avot on the intervening Shabbat afternoons, so time permitting we’ll dip into this well of rabbinic and prerabbinic wisdom and see what surfaces.

Shabbat shalom,

Neal.

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Study Torah, Become Holy (A Little)

2011.04.29
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France Street Torah Study
Saturday, April 30, 2011 – 10 am to noonish
Torah Portion: Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27)
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15 (Ashkenazim); Ezekiel 20:2-20 (Sephardim)
Neal & Ann’s Living Room (email scoop at sonic dot net for directions)

Torah is many things to many people, or even many things to the same person depending upon which part he or she is studying. It’s simultaneously a history, law code, spiritual guide, extended mythology, moral platform, conceptual trampoline. This week, our topic du Torah is “holiness” — or to literally translate our portion’s title, “Holinesses.”

Simply put, our text concerns practical rules for spiritual living. We see little things, like rising in the presence of the aged and/or learned; medium things, like not stealing or lying; and big things, like “Love your neighbor as yourself” — the most repeated commandment in the Torah, perhaps because it’s so counterintuitive.

Richard Elliott Friedman, in his “Commentary on the Torah,” says this: “… If one had to choose only one chapter out of the Torah to make known, it might well be this one.” He further notes that in this case, the medium may also be the message: “The strange mixing of so many different kinds of commandments may convey that every commandment is important. Even if we are naturally inclined to regard some commandments as more important than others, and some commandments as most important of all, this tapestry presses us to see what is important and valuable in every commandment, even commandments that one may question.”

(Writing this out just now, I found myself typing “commendment” for “commandment.” It’s possible that I’m typing with a Yiddish accent, but don’t the mitzvot — those customary and spontaneous acts which connect our world with the Divine through a series of micro-redemptions — commend us to God, at least in theory?)

Questioning commandments, or anything, is an important part of Judaism. But to question, you must first know. ;-) Come and learn a little this Shabbat in a safe place for questions. (We can’t guarantee the answers, though!) If time permits, in addition to Kedoshim we will also study the second chapter of the rabbinical wisdom text, Pirke Avot. This thousand-year-old collection of pithy sayings, containing such gems as Hillel’s “If not now, when?” is traditionally studied chapter-by-chapter on the Shabbats between Pesach and Shavuot (this year, June 7-8). If not us, who?

Be well, and Shabbat shalom,

Neal

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Nathanson Creek Haiku

2011.03.24
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Actually, this was taken during the Great Flood of 2005, may it not come again for the hundred years suggested by the city general plan. But it's kind of full right now -- about 2/3 of the way here, which is meaningless without a reference, so I'd better add that's normal for a day of rain. Flooding isn't normal, but the other local residents and I just want to make sure.

Fig. 1.


Raining, raining hard.
Watchful figures on the bridge
note the rising creek.

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