The theme of my week has been rest. Mainly, not enough of it. Coming off of our epic Purim festivities, where we raised $5,000 for New Sanctuary Movement, I have felt a bit tired. And I have talked with several of you this week, and I know you too are tired. This administration is relentless. Everything feels urgent. There are literally three important, righteous meetings to go to in every night. And while we can mock it on Purim, we have to actually figure out how to live it sustainably in our lives.
This week's Torah portion includes the refreshing reminder I personally needed. Observe Shabbat...or else! Really rest. Turn off your screens, sit around in your pajamas, have extended conversations, take a long walk, play board games, do a puzzle, go to, not one, but two yoga classes. I know the list is long. But so is the week, not to mention your twitter feed.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his weekly writing shares this beautiful reflection on the relationship between Shabbat and the building of the tabernacle. In it he reminds us that in this lifetime, Shabbat must make it to the top of our to-do list.
"The Sabbath is a full dress rehearsal for an ideal society that has not yet come to pass, but will do, because we know what we are aiming for – because we experienced it at the beginning...The building of the Tabernacle was a symbolic prototype of the building of a society...The ultimate end of such a society is the harmony of existence that we have not yet experienced, living as we do in a world of work and striving, conflict and competition. God, however, wanted us to know what we were aiming at, so that we would not lose our way in the wilderness of time."
As we move into Shabbat, wherever you are, you have clear instruction and full permission from the Torah (and the Holy One!) to let go, relax and rejuvenate, because your health, your happiness and your life depends on it.
And if you are able to come to Kol Tzedek tomorrow, I invite you to sing and dance it out as we celebrate three simchas, including the Bar Mitzvah of Dayan Parker, the taking of a new name with Jessica Levine and milestone of becoming a grandparent with Carol Daniels.
Rabbi Ari Lev
...in the world to come the only holiday that we will continue to celebrate is Purim!
As many of us studied together last Shabbat, there is an obligation to get drunk on Purim. The Slonimer Rebbe understands this text to mean that we should get intoxicated from the experience of Purim itself. I so look forward to dissolving binaries, softening our judgements and having a gay ol' time together at Adult Purim on Saturday night at 7:30 (Get your tickets to avoid the line at the door!) and Family Purim at 3:15 on Sunday.
But first, this Shabbat, known as Shabbat Zachor or the Sabbath of Rememberence, is the second in a series of four shabbatot that lead up to Purim -- known affectionately as the "Arba Parshiyot - 4 Torah Portions," named for the additional portions of Torah read on these Shabbat mornings.
Communities around the world will read:
"Remember what Amalek did to you as you were leaving Egypt…and when YHVH your God brings you to a place of rest from your surrounding enemies in the land YHVH your God is giving you as your portion, blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens — do not forget. (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
According to some commentaries, Parashat Zachor is the only Torah reading that every individual is required to hear. There is a tradition from the Talmud that Haman, the antagonist of the Purim story, descended from Amalek.
On this Shabbat Zachor, we are instructed explicitly to remember to forget the memory of Amalek. Amalek has come to be known as the force of evil in our mythology. Why evil? Because they exploited the most vulnerable among us. The parallels to this political moment are all too clear. What do we do with the concept of evil? What do we really believe and what does Jewish tradition offer as models for spiritual reconciliation? Are people inherently wicked? Come to services and join in this Dvar Torah Discussion tonight. And for more insight into Shabbat Zachor and how it relates to Purim and Passover, read this teaching from my teacher, Rabbi Ebn Leader.
May this Purim be a time when we, as the Slonimer teaches, are able to experience and move towards greater wholeness with ourselves, with each other and with the Holy Blessed One.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!
Last night I walked to Kol Tzedek under the sliver of the new moon of the month of Adar. I spent a few precious hours with a creative group of KT members to put the finishing touches on our upcoming Purim Party/Fundraiser. First of all, get your tickets! Because we need to laugh and dance it out right now!
About Purim, the Talmud teaches, "Each person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until they cannot distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai’" (Megillah 7b). For a moment, let's put aside our relationship to alcohol, so that we can focus on our relationship to blessing and curses. And perhaps more precisely, good and evil, right and wrong, left and right, love and hate, us and them, self and other. In a moment when this administration is obsessed with division and fear, Purim comes to teach us that binaries are not constructive. Purim comes to teach us that we are all connected. And frankly, this year, Purim is coming just in time. Just when there might be an urge to isolate out of fear, Purim reminds us that all is one. That we must draw each other close. That we must lift up hope and solidarity, and resist a narrative that demeans or demonizes other human beings. Purim teaches us that the path of compassion and empathy is itself the path of redemption.
Needless to say, this week has been surreal. As I shared with many of you on Monday night, I have been comforted by the image in psalm 42, "Tehom el Tehom korei." Translated by Scholar Avivah Zornberg, "Deep calls unto Deep." There is place beyond language, beyond binaries and judgement, a place of knowing from which we can rise in grounded action and compassionate clarity. I believe it is our work as people of conscience and faith, to connect to our deepest longings and truths, and work to build relationships that will guide us towards strength, courage, resilience and collective justice. Standing Against Hate at Independence Hall yesterday bolstered my commitment to resisting antisemitism and Islamophobia together, and building stronger relationships with our Muslim neighbors. To quote a letter we just received from The Islamic Education School:
"We know that there are beacons of light in trying times and that we are able to lean on one another to weather these storms...Together we can show the meaning of being neighbors, of being empathetic and peacefully living as members of the human race."
Please join me and Rabbi Michelle tomorrow for a morning of sacred song and learning.
10 am Beit Midrash: Come learn more the spiritual powers of Purim and the commandment to blur boundaries for the sake of wholeness. (downstairs)
10:30 am Family Service (upstairs)
And stay tuned for more ways to get involved, so that we can amplify our voice for justice and our vision of solidarity and interconnection.
Shabbat Shalom - May you find the replenishment you seek!
Last week, as we experienced the revelation of Torah at Mt. Sinai, I kept thinking about how I tend to stay, "We all stood at Mt. Sinai." A statement meant to describe an inclusive theology that transcends religious distinctions. But something felt not quite right, knowing that "standing" is meant to be a metaphor but inherently excludes those of us for whom standing is not possible, either entirely or for long periods of time; my inner voice reminding me of the internalized ableism that runs deep in my veins and in our society.
A midrash teaches us, "When the Jews left Egypt, almost all of them had a disability" (Numbers Rabbah, Naso 7:1). How did this happen to be? They had been working with bricks and clay, climbing to the tops of buildings. A rock might fall and cut off their hands, or some clay might get into their eyes, blinding them. Needless to say, slaves in Egypt did not have good access to healthcare. This was the community of Israelites who gathered at Sinai to receive the Torah. And while it is not always visible, this is also true in our community.
Something you may not know about me is that for three years after college I worked as a personal care attendant for people with disabilities; first with kids in a public school and then with adults with Cerebral Palsy. The experience taught me so much about interdependence, vulnerability and what it means to care for each other in the fullness of our needs
Over the past 6 months I have sat with many of you, listening to your stories and your struggles to feel seen in your fullness, with your abilities and disabilities. Members among us have visual and auditory disabilities, learning and developmental disabilities, and physical disabilities. And we are forever shaped by our experience of navigating them, and learning to value our selves with them.
One of the way that ableism functions, is that it makes it very difficult to talk about disability. Many of us suffer from self-advocacy fatigue, longing for a space we can just be without need to ask for an accommodation, fearful we will be judged or misunderstood. We as a community long to be infinitely accessible and inclusive, yet we miss the mark and feel shame, which only leads to more silence.
It is for this reason that I am especially grateful that we as a community are honoring Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month tonight at Minyan Ometz Lev. Thank you Rabbi Michelle for her ongoing leadership and insights into disability justice. In the words of Rabbi Marc Margolius, "Each us carries a piece of Torah..Our task is impossible if we exclude anyone from our sacred community. For this reason God revealed the Torah to this first generation of Israelites, making no distinctions based on ability, including everyone one of us in the covenant symbolized by Torah."
As we journey through the wilderness of experience, may we as a community continue to grow in awareness as we seek greater inclusion, honoring the Torah that is uniquely each of ours to reveal.
Wherever you are in your day or your week, take a moment to look outside and appreciate something growing. And then to remember that you are growing too. The only stasis in this universe is change. To be alive is to be growing. We humbly learn this from the trees in their rooted stability, their ability to let go and transform.
In the words of my rabbi and teacher Sharon Cohen Anisfeld,
"This Shabbat, two moments converge on our sacred calendar – the holiday of Tu b’Shvat, on which we celebrate the new year for trees, and Shabbat Shirah, on which we chant the Song of the Sea. These two moments call out to us with a deep and important reminder: the possibility of renewal is everywhere, at all times."
For those looking for more Torah on Tu B'shevat, here is a teaching from one of my teachers, Rabbi Nehemia Polen.
Now more than ever, we gift each other and ourselves, presence, community and connection. Not in spite of our current circumstances, but specifically because of them. Sacred time is a refuge from the deluge of injustice; it is a source of both resilience and resistance to despair.
From Standing Rock to Flint, MI, we know that racism and environmental injustice are deeply linked. In this epically important moment, we send our love and prayers to Standing Rock. On this Shabbat Shira, we will be singing Water Heal My Soul because #WaterIsLife.
For those who are able, I look forward to singing and learning tonight.
6:30 pm - Services
7:45 - Dinner - POTLUCK!
8:15 - Tu B'Shevat Seder with Jewish Farm School and Repair the World
Tonight is also opening night for Curio's new show. To be good neighbors and housemates, we ask that no one be in the lobby upstairs or the black box after 7:45 pm. They have reviewers at their performance!
Shabbat Shalom to all,
Rabbi Ari Lev
Dear Kol Tzedek Community,
We did not choose to start reading from the Book of Exodus this week. It chose us. As we turn our mythic attention from the formation of personhood to peoplehood, we turn our national attention from a leader of integrity and vision, to one of deceit and immorality.
We read that a new pharaoh comes to power who is troubled by the growing foreign, Israelite population in the land. He enacts laws that seek to demonize, dehumanize and diminish this population.
And we read of the Midwives and Moses' righteous acts of civil disobedience. We read of the power of feminism to subvert injustice. And the power of the people to rise up and claim their liberation.
Ramban, the 13th century Spanish Mystic, teaches that the Book of Exodus is not just a narrative of liberation, it is a paradigm for our ongoing journey from Exile to Redemption. The Israelite Exile is not over when they cross the sea. They then find themselves lost in a desert, pining for food, water and the good-ole-days of slavery.
Our exile from racism did not end when Barak Obama took office. The legacy of slavery is deep in this country's DNA. We now find ourselves in the wilderness, and there are those people longing for an oppressive past. Their voices are amplified in this new regime. But so are ours!
In the words of social change advocate Valerie Kaur, "What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb – but the darkness of the womb?" Just as the Exodus story is about the birth of a nation through the waters of the Red Sea, so too Kaur says, "We find ourselves in this country's great transition. And what do the midwives tell us to do? Breath and Push!"
This is a time of tremendous organizing, creative resistance and community formation. This, according to the Ramban, is essential to our redemption. Just as the Israelites built the mishkan (portable sanctuary) in the wilderness, we are called to built vibrant, multi-faith and multiracial coalitions for transformative justice here in Philadelphia.
God says to Moses: 'Cry out unto Pharaoh, and tell him: YHVH, the God of the Hebrews says: Let My people go, that they may serve Me." Take note. As much as the spiritual has popularized this phrase, it is not simply "Let My People Go!" We are freed from chattel slavery that we may be of service to something greater than ourselves.
When we transition from one book of the Torah to the next, as we did last shabbat, we say, “Chazak chazak v’nitchazeik” – “Be strong, strong, so may we make ourselves strong.”
As we gather tonight and tomorrow, we draw on the spirits of the midwives and Moses who placed their lives on the line and defied Pharoah's decree. Where ever you are this weekend. From D.C. to Philly and beyond, Be strong, strong, so may we make ourselves strong!
I look forward to gathering strength with many of you this weekend:
Tonight at 5:30 pm at Calvary
Saturday at 9:30 am at the NW Corner of 19th and Market
Rabbi Ari Lev
Dear Kol Tzedek Community,
In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
"At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the green herb...
This week we read the last section in the book of Genesis, and companion the Israelites into mitzrayim/a narrow place, which ultimately leads to their enslavement. Next week we begin the liberation narrative of Exodus. We find ourselves caught in this liminal moment, full of loss, fear, anticipation and poised to take action. The timing of our sacred texts is so deeply linked in this moment to our own political experience.
There is a long history of comparing Martin Luther King Jr. to Moses. Both prophetic voices and community organizers. Both freedom fighters who never saw the world redeemed. It is so powerful to know that Moses' voice will enter the stage on MLK Jr. Weekend, just in time for the inauguration. But first we allow ourselves to feel the loss of Jacob and Joseph, whose bones remain buried in Egypt for hundreds of years until the Israelites carrying them with them across the sea.
Tonight at Ometz Lev, 6:30 pm - We will hear from Rev. Nicolas O'Rourke and the work of P.O.W.E.R. Services will be sprinkled with readings from both Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. and the Vision for Black Lives. This is a moment to speak truth to power. This is a moment for prophetic voices to lift us up, comfort us and inspire us.
MLK Jr. continues,
"But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy. When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling homesickness, we need to know that there is someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance. "
[excerpts from The Strength To Love, 1963 (adapted)]
For those tearful at Obama's Farewell speech, for those horrified by the Senate hearings and press conferences, for those eager to cry out and organize and protest. For those seeking refuge, hope and renewal. Join us as we bask in teachings of love and justice!
Rabbi Ari Lev
Dear Kol Tzedek Community,
Why do we cry?
When do we cry?
Why is it sometimes so hard to cry, and sometimes so hard to stop crying?
Jewish tradition teaches that even when prayer is impossible, the Gates of Tears are always open. This is often cited on Yom Kippur, when the heart pours out and words escape us. But it is true all year long. Not just for us, but for our mythic ancestors and biblical characters.
This week's Torah portion Vayigash finds us in the middle of what some call the Joseph Novella. Joseph is the character, only second to Moses, who gets the most air time in all of Torah. His story becomes a microcosm for the ups and downs (both spiritually and literally) of one's life experiences. And it is full of tears. Seven times Joseph cries. A mentor in rabbinical school taught me that tears are prayers. If that is so, what are Joseph's tears coming to teach us?
Tomorrow morning at Torah study we will explore Joseph's Tears, and the role of crying in our ancient texts, and ultimately in our own life.
Join us tomorrow, Saturday 1/7:
Torah Study at 10 am (Calvary basement classroom)
Family Service with Jessi at 10:30 (Chapel)
Community Meeting at 5 pm (with childcare and pizza!)
Shabbat Shalom to all!
May we all have a chance to truly exhale and feel refreshed.
Rabbi Ari Lev
Dear Kol Tzedek Community,
If we were in a game of family feud and you asked me what 100 people thought "Judaism did best", I would quickly hit my buzzer and answer "death." I have always thought that Judaism was so good at personal and communal mourning; at making space to grieve, to heal and to transform. I thought a lot about this during my recent meditation retreat. I spent many hours working with pain and tension in my shoulders, and realizing that my capacity to feel this pain (and by extension pain, loss and discomfort in general) is directly proportional to my capacity to feel joy.
And Hanukkah is ultimately a festival about joy. So much so, that we are instructed to recite the psalms of Hallel each and every day. We greet each other with "Hag Urim Sameach" - May you have a Joyous Festival of Light! We get to celebrate Rosh Hodesh (the new moon) and Shabbat right along side Hanukkah. And this year we get to add the celebratory joy (and lets be honest, some angst) of New Years Eve.
Coming off of this retreat and this week of Hanukkah, my insight deepened. It is because Judaism is so good at holding hard emotions, at ritualizing and supporting us through difficult times, that Judaism is also able to carve out space for simcha, for sacred joy. It is because we were able to gather and grieve the night after the election that we are also able to draw strength and resilience on the 1st night of Hanukkah/Christmas Eve. It is because we heard each other's stories of loss on Yom Kippur, that we can whole-heartedly dance the hora at baby namings and bar mitzvahs.
Thank you for teaching me this. I am so grateful to be part of the Kol Tzedek community for living so fully into this truth. Together we allow each other to present to life and to each other.
Just before lighting the last night of candles, I made a donation to Kol Tzedek and asked my friends and family to do the same. Thank you to everyone who has given time, money and love.
May we all be blessed with a year of feeling more alive, waking up to connection, community, resilience, and hopefully a lot of joy!
Happy Hanukkah, Shavua Tov and Happy New Year!
Rabbi Ari Lev