Imagine being on the other side of Torah. We read these words, and we “hear” them perhaps, often as if we were speaking these words to ourselves, but imagine if we were there (wherever there is – maybe here?) and we were listening. Lots of words are going by us, hour after hour – how are we ever going to remember all these details? We may be hungry, we may need to sit down, our children are fussy, and still, Moshe goes on and on about what we need to know. Remind you of some synagogue services you have sat through?
From the Rabbi’s Desk
Shavua tov. This has truly been a week of joyful celebration as simcha has followed simcha. We were blessed on Kabbalat Shabbat to hear from inspiring guest speakers including Dr. Joel Fagan, Rabbi Allan Finkel and Dr. Pekka Sinervo, all introduced by Kolot Mayim members. I was very honoured to be introduced by our hard-working president Sharon Shalinsky, who presented me – and us – with a gift from the congregation. We now have a beautiful silver yad to use when reading Torah. This is a wonderful example of hiddur mitzvah – trying to make each mitzvah shine with beauty! And then again, Sunday afternoon, a joyful crowd gathered. Sari Alesh played his beautiful music and then Lindy Shortt, Nava Friedmann, Pekka Sinervo, Aaron Devor and I all spoke, and then we had a resounding l’chaim and some excellent nosh prepared by Samuel and Deborah.
How do I begin to thank everyone for coming to celebrate with us, for making meaningful donations to Kolot Mayim, for helping with set-up and clean-up, for helping with photography and Power Point slideshows, for helping organize both the Friday night service and the Sunday afternoon tea? For all the ways we have come together as a community, I thank you all. This truly is a taste of what we can do together when we bring honour to our beloved Kolot Mayim community within the larger community of Victoria. I will be going to Winnipeg for Rabbi Allan’s installation in late October (I have been assured that there will not yet be snow on the ground), and I know I will be bringing him a yasher koach from all who met him.
I know many of you were moved by his words to us, and by Rabbi Allan’s challenge to us from Shoftim, last week’s Torah reading. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof; Justice, justice you shall pursue. Many years ago, in my reading about the Shoah, I was brought into my deep knowledge that it was a necessity for me to be part of rebuilding justice in a world that had turned its back on this holy command. But I chose to become a Jew – and stay a Jew – not because of the darkness of the Shoah, but because of the beauty and dignity of the treasure we all have inherited – a Jewish tradition that always honours life, a culture that demands we work together to achieve justice for all, and a deep history of valuing the light of learning. I am honoured to now hold the baton – and now the yad – in this continuing cycle of learning and pursuit of justice. Much love and gratitude to you all, Rabbi Lynn
Very briefly, as you will be hearing from me over Shabbat and next Sunday. I want to invite you into an Elul journey.
Elul is understood to be a month of preparation for the next new moon – Rosh Hashanah. We traditionally take time to forgive ourselves for deeds we haven’t been willing to face into. We try to forgive others if they have hurt us, even if we have been unwilling to let go of that grain of hurt/sand, (even though usually we end up with a sore heart and not a pearl).
This Elul, while we do this work, I am offering another challenge. Today is 1 Elul. We count forward to 29 Elul. Let’s make an Elul jar, where we do some reckoning of ourselves as Jews. Each day write down a question you have, a fear or a failing you may feel, or write about a small gift you would like to bring us. Think about who you are in this lifetime, and ask yourself how you could bring more of who you are into these coming days. On Rosh Hashanah we will bring our scraps of paper and our scraps of selves to services. We will make a pile, mix them up, and then read through and discuss some of our thoughts.
“Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?”
Chodesh tov, Shavua tov,
It has been a week since our beloved mother, Mary Greenhough, died. I have had many notes and calls of consolation from many of you, and I want to tell each of you how grateful I am to all of you. We have been swimming in food, in cake, but most of all love. As a result, even in this time of loss, I have never felt lost, and I have never felt alone. Thank you.
Mum died and began her journey of “going home” during the week of journeys, of Matot-Masei. Yet, as we move forward, we must also reflect back on what has been. This week we open the book of words, of Devarim. Even as we try to capture a lifetime in a hesped, the words of eulogy at a funeral, Moses, in Devarim, tried to capture and re-tell the most salient points of the past 40 years for the Israelites to remember as they prepare to enter the Land. “Eileh devarim, these are the words”….he begins. In Chapter 1 verse 9, Moses says to the people. “I cannot carry you alone.” None of us can move forward alone. Like Moses, we need each other to bring us wisdom and understanding, good judgement and diligent help. I am so grateful to be part of our Kolot Mayim community and of the Jewish community beyond our own home.
In my mother’s honour I would like to observe Tisha B’Av this Saturday night, August 10th . We will read sections of the book of Eichah, as we mourn the destruction of the Temple, of Jerusalem, and of the catastrophes that have befallen us as a people.
This has been a wonderful first year at Kolot Mayim for me. We have learned Torah together, we have rearranged where we meet (Deli side), we have begun new duties (Char Ashford has taken on being our Gabbai) and last week we started what I hope will be a regular Friday night Shabbat dinner together with our “Shabbat is in the Bag” evening. We have welcomed new members and welcomed returning members; during this coming year we will be working towards continuing that increase in our membership.
I am beginning to make plans for the coming year – for Yontif services and celebrations, for classes and learning together. But the engine we call Kolot Mayim doesn’t run on my fuel alone! We need participation. This week in our Torah reading, Pinchas, another census is taken, to establish rights of inheritance of the Land that the Israelites will soon dwell within. Establishing those numbers and their due was important. Today as we think about building Kolot Mayim, our numbers also reflect our intention to bring our voice into the larger Jewish world. URJ has suggested that each congregation build a voice of “audacious hospitality” and I hope that all of us together are living up to that phrase.
Some ideas for new classes were voiced at the AGM, and new ideas for how we can structure services – but in order for these ideas to move forward we need to work together. We are a congregation of many talents. Please be in touch with me and let me know what you would like to contribute, what you would like to learn to do so that together we truly can make Kolot Mayim truly synonymous with welcome and inclusion and a genuine “audacious hospitality.”
Wishing everyone a wonderful summer of visits and picnics, of some time for renewal and reflection as we look ahead to coming together again in September. I am truly honoured to be Rabbi at Kolot Mayim, and look forward immensely to working with each of you over the coming year.
I am honoured to be at a Bat Mitzvah ceremony this Thursday, July 18, with the family and friends of Annie Marcovitz. The following text is Annie’s D’var Torah, which I thought would be a lovely way to share her simcha with Kolot Mayim members. The photograph is the challah cover that Annie mentions.
Hello everyone, thank you for coming to my Bat Mitzvah, especially to those who come from far away. I’m really excited to have everyone here. My parsha is Balak where we meet the original talking donkey, not the one from Shrek.
The Israelites are making their slow way to Moab. The Moabite King, Balak, feels that the Israelites are going to take over his land, that they might overwhelm and overpower Moab. The Moabites said, “Now the congregation (of Israel) will lick up our entire surroundings, as an ox licks up the greenery of the field.” In response, King Balak sent multiple messages to the wizard Balaam… to put a curse on the Israelites – but Balaam refused. He talked to God and God told him that, “You shall not go with them, you shall not curse the people for it is blessed.” Finally, Balaam agrees to go with the messengers, but he tells the messengers he will only speak the words that God puts in his mouth.
Balaam begins his journey while riding his donkey, who will soon be that talking donkey I mentioned earlier. God decided that He didn’t want Balaam to go to King Balak, so God sent an angel holding a sword to block their path. God only let the donkey see the angel, while Balaam only saw a clear pathway ahead. The donkey sensed danger, and it started to back up into a fence. Balaam started to strike his donkey. God then opened the donkey’s mouth and the donkey asked Balaam, “Why are you hitting me?” Balaam hit the donkey three times before he saw the angel holding a big sword. The angel spoke to Balaam, saying that Balaam should be grateful to his donkey because if he had gone any further the angel would have killed Balaam and let the donkey go.
What could possibly be the message that comes from this story of a talking donkey and a wizard? I think Balaam should have trusted his loyal donkey. But he didn’t – it is almost like Balaam was wearing donkey-blinders. Balaam finally saw the angel after he had beaten his donkey three times. The angel of God didn’t kill Balaam, and again Balaam said he could only speak the words that God put in his mouth. God through the angel gave Balaam a second chance, and Balaam finally recognized the donkey was seeing something he couldn’t. I think if someone has been truthful and loyal in the past, don’t lash out on them because of a misunderstanding. Maybe we find out later that we were at fault, that our eyes were closed to the truth. We are all humans. Or donkeys.
Maybe this section of Torah is trying to teach us to trust, just like Balaam should have trusted his donkey. Sometimes we may misunderstand what our friends are doing. It is important that we put ourselves in their shoes, to understand their actions. If this person has helped you, or been there for you or done anything else that has earned your friendship then they still deserve our respect depending on the mistake. Often times, their actions were to help you just like the donkey was helping Balaam.
Three years ago when we moved here from Toronto, we lost a couple of boxes in the moving process. One of the things that we lost were two very special challah covers. They were made by my great Bubbie – she sewed and embroidered these challah covers – we believed we would never see these precious challah covers again. Last year before Passover, we were grocery shopping at Congregation Emanu-El, the Conservative synagogue downtown. Before we left we decided to look in the gift shop for anything to add to our collection of Passover tchotchkes. There was a small basket of challah covers, and we found one that looked very familiar. We decided to buy it. We thought it might be one of the Hallah covers that we lost in the move. We asked for photos of the families other challah covers and we found it was the exact same pattern and exact same colours. We came to the conclusion that the moving company had delivered the box to the wrong house – the
people had given the cloth to Congregation Emanu-El and two years later we were there to find it and buy it back.
So how does this story of the lost-and-found challah cover tie in with the story of Balaam and Balak and the people Israel? I believe that our stories are linked because I feel like our eyes were closed to the challah cover and then re-opened – for a reason. That reason was to appreciate the challah cover even more – after it found its way back to us. To me it symbolizes our destiny, or to use a Jewish word – bashert.
Most of my family has a similar challah cover made by my great Bubbe. It feels like each of us were supposed to have one, it is a distinctive family treasure and every Friday night I think of my great Bubbe and how special it is that we got it back. After Balaam’s eyes had been opened and he had understood the donkey’s actions, he must have appreciated the donkey much more for being protective and saving
his life. The challah cover didn’t save our lives but it did make us
appreciate it and its story after our eyes had been opened and we had found it.
In conclusion, we can relate the story of Balak and the talking donkey to our everyday lives in so many ways. It teaches us empathy and kindness, to never assume someone else’s position and to try to be understanding of someone else’s position and situations
Shabbat shalom everyone. I will be in Vancouver over the weekend officiating at the wedding of Ben Rolph, son of Wendy and Glenn Rolph Ben will be marrying his beloved Anna Klenin. We wish them and their families mazal tov.
Chukkat, our Torah reading for this week, is one of the strangest sections in Torah. With shades of magical realism we encounter the פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה the parah aduma, the Red Heifer, and the נְחַשׁ נְחשֶׁת, the Copper Serpent coiled around the staff of Moses. It is always interesting to ponder both the original intentions (speculation) of these origin stories, and consider how they carry meaning forward from nascent Biblical Judaism through Temple/Israel Judaism through Exile and Rabbinic Judaism to our own Modern era. We have had many phases as a people and as a religious tradition. As we read these origin stories year after year, we hope to glean from their primal telling, a glint of application into our lives today.
The Red Heifer was a cow brought to the Kohanim, the priests, to be a sacrifice; its ashes were then used for the ritual purification of Tum’at HaMet (the impurity of the dead), to purify any Israelite who had come into contact with a corpse. The Heifer had to be perfectly red – every hair on its body red as the ground, adamah, as the first human, adam. This purity, of course, proved to be elusive, even death continued to be a source of tumah, of ritual impurity. We thus evolved other rituals involving the elements of water and earth to achieve states of ritual purity.
Similarly, the copper serpent that we read about later in Chukkat, incorporates in the Hebrew, an alliterative bonding, (נְחַשׁ נְחשֶׁת), even as the serpent is coiled around the staff. The Israelites were threatened by plague of serpents in the wilderness, after complaining yet again about their conditions in the Wilderness. Many died, and their only safety was for them to look at the copper serpent, in a homeopathic like-to-likeness cure.
These readings remind us in many ways that the wisdom of our Torah is literally grounded in connection of people and Land. Ritual purity and impurity calls to mind the theories of Mary Douglas, and her writings about cultures and dirt. In her book Purity and Danger, Douglas attempted to explain the cultural nature of taboos around what was considered unclean – or polluted (dirt). If death is a source of ritual impurity then there must be a cultural response, a mechanism for regaining ritual purity.
When the people Israel were confronted with death from the plague of serpents, they needed a mechanism of regaining control – and survival. By gazing into what was now a copper symbol of potential death, they lived.
Every day we awake and thank God for returning our soul. Sleep is understood to be like a mini-death, and to awaken is to live. And consider that whilst modern medicine has evolved over the centuries the symbol for medical doctors is this:
On July 19th our last Friday night service until September, Kolot Mayim will host a “Shabbat is in the Bag” dinner. Please RSVP, so we have a sense of how many members will join us for a traditional and fun Friday night dinner. We will begin at 6 pm, with Gary Cohen arriving for Kabbalat Shabbat at 7:30. The idea is for each family to bring their “dinner” in a container, as well as the utensils, plates, etc. you will need. When done, we will just pack up our bags to take home. No one needs to cook for 40 – and cleanup is easy. What could be better!! I will bring a surprise dessert! Looking forward to a Kolot Mayim Shabbat dinner with everyone.
It is so good to be home. My ordination weekend was spectacularly wonderful, emotionally moving and filled with moments I will remember to the end of my days. And I was so happy to be back at Kolot Mayim on Shabbat morning. We celebrated with Deena Kinarthy, and her family, Elior, Leah, and Ari, here in Victoria and beyond, and with Rowan Townshend and his parents and brother, Susan, Roger, and Isaac, from that other island – PEI. Then yesterday I was able to officiate at their wedding. I have celebrated a number of weddings by now, but this time was the first time as a Rabbi. Joy builds more joy.
Last week we read Shelach Lecha, and we learned about the leaders of the tribes who returned from their mission to investigate the Land of Canaan. Moses gave clear instructions. “How is it? And the people that dwells in it – is it few or numerous? …And how is the land? Is it fertile or is it lean? Are there trees in or not? You shall strengthen yourselves and take from the fruit of the Land. The days were the season of the first ripe grapes.” And yet, even though these leaders came back with reports – and proof of great abundance – they encouraged the people to not enter the Land. Doubt and fear overcame them. Only Joshua and Caleb said, “We can do this!” How many of us have turned away from abundance, from promise, because we felt fearful and undeserving? Shelach teaches us to welcome challenges, and in doing us find abundance – and then to always share that abundance, whatever it may be, as a gift from God.
This week in Korach we see this story refracted from another angle. Korach stepped forward and challenged not just Aaron but also Moses. “It is too much for you! For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy, and God is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of God?” As we read these words, we may have sympathy for Korach – we too may ask, are we not all equal? Are we not all imbued with holiness? Are we not as a group – Israel – named holy in our relationship with God? Yet our tradition teaches us Korach, and his allies, were causing a deep rift amongst the people Israel. These words were dividing the people against themselves, and, ultimately, against heaven, against God.
While Korach comes to a most untimely end, I think we can all step back from this text and ask ourselves how we see ourselves within the people Israel. Are we helping to build? Are we working together?
Think of those two structures we have in our tradition: a sukkah to celebrate our autumn harvest, and a chuppah to celebrate a new home and a new family. Both are both symbols of a bayit, a home, and in doing so remind us that our homes, and ultimately our lives are fragile – and temporary. If we are truly to taste the abundance of life – to say yes to the blessings around us, then we also need to remember that the other side of abundance is fragility. Mishnah teaches: “Controversy for the sake of heaven will come to fruition, while that which is not for the sake of heaven will not. Controversy for the sake of heaven: that of Hillel and Shammai. Controversy not for the sake of heaven: that of Korach.
Let’s continue to work together over this coming year, and continue to build Kolot Mayim with open walls and an abundance of welcome.
Shavua tov and Shabbat shalom – a circle of peace.
In Tales of Hasidim, by Martin Buber there is a teaching I thought I would like to consider this week: The Rabbi of Kotzk was asked: “Why is Shavuot called ‘the time the Torah was given’ rather than the time we received the Torah?” He answered: “The giving took place on one day, but the receiving takes place at all times.”
Shavuot has many symbols – one I particularly love is of Torah as the Ketubah between Am Yisroel and God. AKetubah, as we will learn next week, is an essential element of a Jewish wedding – a covenant of obligation, a brit. I often say to couples I am meeting, “Remember you are getting married, not wedding’ed.” Just as Torah was given on one day (the wedding), receiving Torah is like being married – hopefully as the Rabbi suggested, in an everyday blessing.
What gives our lives meaning and purpose? Do you get up in the morning and look at your day planner – electronic or handwritten or printed? Do you look at today’s appointments within the larger context of the week – or even a month? Do you make grocery lists?
Or, do you wake up in the morning and say que sera, que sera?
I don’t know about you, but my life is a series of lists and schedules, in order to meet the commitments I have made to students, congregants, my mother’s appointments, medical appointments, meetings with prospective brides and meetings with Board members. Rare is the day that is blank on any of my multiple calendars!