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Only Today: Reflections on Psalm 59

06/19/2019 12:45:25 PM

Jun19

Rabbi Brent Spodek

Wellness and illness are not fixed states; they are snapshots of a moment, points in time. Nobody can truly say “I am well”; we can only accurately say “I am well now.”

Spiritually traditional Jews...Read more...

Shavuot: Journey of the Universe

05/30/2019 10:46:17 PM

May30

Rabbi Brent Spodek

Next Saturday, June 8, will mark the beginning of Shavuot, possibly the least known of the major Jewish holidays.

We’ll be celebrating it here at BHA starting at 6pm with dinner, cheesecake and a screening of the film Journey of the Universe. The film will be followed by a discussion with myself and my wife, Professor Alison Spodekabout the spiritual dimensions of natural history of our planet.  At 9pm we'll have Shavuot davvening led by Cantor Ellen Gersh. All of the details are here, and I hope you’ll come and join us!

If you want to get prepared, here’s what Shavuot is about:

On the most basic level, Shavuot is a holiday which celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai as well as the biblical heroine Ruth, a poor woman of the despised Moabite nation who is nevertheless supported by Boaz, an Israelite. Ritually, its defining characteristic is a late night study session, known as a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, while a secondary and wonderful tradition is eating dairy products, specifically cheesecake. Finally, Shavuot is also tied to Passover through a practice known as the Counting of the Omer, which marks every one of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.

At a deeper level the study of Torah on Shavuot is about how we “receive Torah” in our time and in our place. There is one thread in the Jewish tradition which demands that we constantly confront the needs of something and someone other than ourselves; at the same time though, there is an immediacy by which the Torah is constantly reshaped by our own understandings of it. Shavuot demands that we not accept Torah passively, but actively bring our full selves to its transmission. As far as the cheesecake, well, the origins of the practice are shrouded in history but my favorite explanation is that once the Israelites received the Torah with its laws regarding the preparation of meat they knew they could not eat their previously prepared meat, which they now knew to be “un-kosher.” So instead, they ate dairy food, the preparation of which is less strictly governed by Jewish law.

Finally, on a personal level, Shavuot brings together the story of Sinai and story of Ruth, which represent two aspects of Judaism which are occasionally and unfortunately seen as being in tension – Love and Justice. Justice, as represented by Sinai, demands reliable systems for adjudicating conflict and ensuring that basic societal needs are met. Without justice, the weak are always at the mercy of the powerful. But Love, as represented by Ruth, knows that laws and systems are never enough. Ruth was a Moabite, a descendant of one of biblical Israel’s worst enemies. By law, she should have been shunned, but she wasn’t. She was embraced by Boaz in a way that recognized the power of the law and its limitations and the tradition tells that the Messiah will ultimately emerge from their union. For us perhaps, the challenge is maintaining love and justice at all times in the proper proportions.

Looking forward to enjoying some cheesecake and Torah with you!

WHAT do we do with the extremist next door?

05/21/2019 11:20:41 PM

May21

Rabbi Brent Spodek

Way back in the second century, the sage Rabba taught that no person can say that their blood is more precious than the blood of another.

It's a remarkable statement, really - we Jews have always been a particular people,...Read more...

Kedoshim - Community

05/07/2019 01:51:18 PM

May7

In Parshat Kedoshim, which we will read this coming Shabbat morning, the Holy One instructs Moses to say to the entire Israelite community: "You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy."

The instruction is addressed in the plural, not to...Read more...

Living this Life

05/01/2019 01:23:38 PM

May1

After tending to the needs of mourners at a funeral, I usually have a quiet moment alone in my car.

I take that moment to collect myself before going on to my next appointment, and the thoughts that come to me are not usually the big metaphysical...Read more...

Omer Counting

04/24/2019 10:19:09 AM

Apr24

Today is the fourth day of the Omer.

Wait... the fourth day of the what?

The Omer is the 49-day period between the second night of Pesach and the holiday of Shavuot. This period marks the beginning of the barley harvest when, in ancient times, Jews would...Read more...

Better the handle than the blade

04/16/2019 11:38:45 AM

Apr16

There are journeys that our souls, collective and individual, need to take. Every year, the Jewish calendar comes to help us take those journeys.

Right now, we are just a few weeks past Purim, a tale of politics and power masquerading as a children's holiday with costumes and...Read more...

Thoughts for Pesach

04/03/2019 10:54:48 AM

Apr3

Is there any more powerful symbol of the drama, history, complex theology and moral imperative of the Jewish people than Pesah (Passover)?

Passover is all about going forth from the narrow places that limit us, freeing our bodies, minds, and spirits, and...Read more...

Divine Movin' and Groovin'

03/26/2019 02:47:58 PM

Mar26

Some of Judaism's original innovators were Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the priest.

Back at the dedication of the ancient altar in the desert, which we read about in this week's parsha, Shemini, they offered "a strange fire" before the...Read more...

Anti Semitism is not about the Jews Alone

03/19/2019 11:29:19 AM

Mar19

When official forms ask for my racial identity, I'm always a little bit flummoxed.

I know I'm not Asian or Pacific Islander, nor am I Black or Hispanic, but I'm not White, exactly, except when I am.

Which is to say, I don't really see myself...Read more...

Thu, June 27 2019 24 Sivan 5779