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Here is our weekly "5-Point Parasha", a short list of what we are enjoying or pondering, as it relates to life and Torah.

What Rabbi Sherril is learning this Shabbat…

Parashat Chukkat – Shabbat 10 Tammuz 5779/July 13, 2019

Moses’ sister Miriam was a prophetess. She had a profound connection to water throughout her whole life. In recognition of her good deeds, G*d had given Miriam a well that provided the Israelites in the wilderness with fresh water to drink wherever they traveled.

Our tradition teaches us that these living waters were Divine, with the power to heal and renew. The fresh waters of Miriam’s well sustained the people as they were transformed from a generation shaped by slavery into a free nation.

In this week’s Torah reading, Miriam dies. And all of a sudden the water stops flowing, and the well dries up. Thirsty and afraid, the Israelites cry out. Not only do they have no access now to water to nourish their bodies, but their concrete connection to G*d, Whose essence sustained the living waters, is cut off as well.

Their thirst drains them of strength for the journey and fills them with despair. They complain to Miriam’s brothers Moses and Aaron, who ask G*d for help. G*d tells the grieving brothers to speak to the rock before the assembled community, promising that it will yield enough water for everyone. But instead of speaking to the rock, Moses strikes it with his staff.

Following the loss of his beloved sister, Moses is running on automatic pilot, like most mourners. In his grief, he speaks sharply to the thirsty community, and then hits the rock in anger rather than speak to it. Moses is not listening to G*d’s instructions.

In return for Moses’ disobedience, the Israelites get mey merivah - the water of struggle, bitter water - it allows them to them survive, but it doesn’t nourish them.

It’s no coincidence that we read this story in the month of Tammuz. According to Kabbalah, Tammuz can be a heavy and challenging time. The heat we experience this month is not just physical – it is also emotional and spiritual. We need to be mindful of emotional intensity this month. Though passion adds vitality to life, as we saw with Moses’ actions, it can also be destructive if not channeled and expressed appropriately.

The month of Tammuz in the Jewish calendar shakes up our world a little bit. There is something very unsettling about this time of year. There has been much tragedy in the month of Tammuz in the history of our people, and there continues to be much unrest in the world. Many of us feel that sadness and despair. Spiritually and emotionally, the energy is not exactly in harmony with what we normally think of as “summer energy”.

According to the Jewish mystics, every month has an area or an energy for healing. For the month of Tammuz, the area for healing is seeing. Like Moses, our challenges in seeing clearly may cause problems for us. What we see reflects what we think. We often see only our own projections, and make judgments or assumptions. Becoming more aware of how we see may enable us to see through appearances to the root of things.

This month, let’s try to make time to see inward – to observe, reflect on, and refine how we think, how we love, and how we work, play and pray. Because how we see things impacts tremendously how we interact with the world. Taking time for self-reflection is a radical, spiritual act of self-care.

I want to bless us all with the vision and clear sight to see the goodness in ourselves and others. May this goodness lift us and hold us and support us all in these challenging times during the month of Tammuz and beyond. Shabbat shalom.

~ With inspiration from Melinda Ribner, Kabbalah Month By Month

Cantor Heather shares a teaching from Rebbe Nachman about singing that she taught at the amazing musical retreat last Shabbat in Lanaudiere:

The Hebrew word "זמר, zemer" means both harvest and song.

For the pdf of the complete teaching click here.

For retreat photos click here.

Cantor Heather shares the source of her "Brmm" technique:

On our retreat and during Shabbat morning services, Cantor Heather has introduced us to the the "Brmm" technique developed by Cantor Joey Weisenberg. For those who would like to learn more about Cantor Joey, click here.

Rabbi Schachar shares a musical prayer that emerged from the retreat:

During our delightful retreat so many talented and inspiring musicians graced us with their offerings. We are grateful to the Moishe House and especially Rabbi(nical Student) Dvir Cahana for helping to make it all happen. We had an experimental/traditional Shabbat morning service and during it this "Eternal Love" musical chant to Tehillim/Psalms 136 spontaneously arose. People shared something for which they were grateful and then we all came in on the refrain "ki l'olam chasdo, Your love is eternal." Thanks to Stephen Mitchell for the English renderings in this recorded version.

A quote Rabbi Schachar is pondering:

When we view the Bible as giving expression to aspects of the self, then we must claim Cain as part of the self and see that if we are Cain, we are also Abel. And the self, our self, that contains Cain and Abel also contains Adam and Eve. We learn that we are always confronting otherness — the otherness that is creative and fruitful and the otherness that is destructive and deadly.

Carol Ochs in Song of the Self

Upcoming @ MOS:

Tickets now available on our website.

Stay tuned for an upcoming launch of "Hebrew through Torah" with Rabbi Schachar and a pre-High Holiday Urban Retreat Day in September.


Here is our weekly "5-Point Parasha", a short list of what we are enjoying or pondering, as it relates to life and Torah.

Rabbi Sherril shares a teaching based on this week's parasha:

Parashat Korakh

July 4, 2019 / 3 Tammuz 5779

This week in Torah, we meet one of the greatest rabble-rousers[1] of the Book, a man named Korakh. Korakh was a leading member of [the Kehatites,] the most prestigious of the Levite families. In those times, the community was divided into three levels – the Kohanim, or priests, the Levites, who served the priests and the community, and the Israelites – everyone else.

In this story, Korakh argues with Moshe Rabbenu that all of the community is holy and therefore the Kohanim, the priestly class, don't deserve a monopoly on their elevated role. Rebellious Korakh challenges Moshe, saying “the whole community is holy - all of them! Why do you, Moshe and Aharon, raise yourselves above them? Who made you such big shots over G*d’s congregation?”[2] He starts a dialogue with Moshe but spurns Moshe’s response. Through it all, he speaks with arrogance and sarcasm to the community leader.

Korakh may have been suggesting that Aharon’s position in the community was superfluous. He demonstrates his point by dressing 250 people in sky blue tallitot and appearing before Moshe.

Moshe responds, “Even if a tallit is sky blue, it still needs a sky blue thread on one of its tzitzit – even if all the people are holy, they still need a leader.”[3]

The rebellious Korakh remains unconvinced. He threatens an uprising against Moshe, and Moshe accepts the challenge. High drama ensues. The earth opens up and swallows Korakh and all of his followers.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow teaches that we can go deep in trying to understand Korakh’s rebellion: He invites us to listen between the lines of the story[4]; here G*d is speaking to Korakh in the moment of crisis:

Korakh, though Moshe Rabbenu is right, you are not entirely wrong. I want the whole people to become holy, but they are not there yet. Indeed, Korakh, you are right - but only in potential, only like a seed. You think the holiness is already full-grown, fully fruitful. It is not. It is but a tiny seed, and it needs time to germinate and grow, time in the womb of Mother Earth.

Korakh, what you need to learn is what it means to become seed deep in the earth, waiting for the season of your sprouting. Korakh, you are what your name says: frozen. You do not yet understand growth, thawing, all the wisdom a seed learns through the winter as the earth thaws and the seed sprouts.

Learn to be seed, Korakh! Into the earth with you, Korakh! Learn to be seed! Through these forty years of pregnancy, as I carry the People in My belly, as they learn to grow – you too must learn to grow! [5]

My blessing to you at this time - to all of us - is that we all learn to be the seed. That we learn to recognize the seed of unfolding holiness that is our true nature, that is our birthright. Love it and feed it well and nurture it. Find out what will make it sprout, blossom and thrive. Welcome the transformation that comes naturally with the season, and the wisdom that comes with change

[1] Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

[2] Num. 16: 1-3

[3] R’ David Wolfe-Blank, z”l, Meta-Parshiot 5757

[4] Rabbi Arthur Waskow story

[5] Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Rabbi Sherril shares an unpublished poem about Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z"l, written by Irving Layton:

Reb Zalman

by Irving Layton, c. 1970-1980, unpublished

Reb Zalman walks the rainbow. With his streimel and his big beard, he keeps his balance. All the crowds watch the crazy Jew walking between heaven and earth: ‘Look! Look at the Jew! He’s crazy.’ The streimel sways from side to side. Reb Zalman knows how to walk rainbows.

Reb Zalman shouts out stories of other madmen before him. Like Reb Israel who liked to drink and dance and jump off mountains; and Reb Zalman of Liadi who visited many worlds; then there was Reb Nachman who tried to fly. And now Reb Zalman who walks rainbows.

Reb Zalman dances and waves his arms. He wants to teach the crowds to dance, And maybe one or two To walk rainbows.

Rabbi Schachar shares a Chasidic Parasha teaching:

Rabbi Simcha Bunim Bonhart of Peshischa (1765–1827) explains that the first two words of the parasha, וַיִּקַּ֣ח קֹ֔רַח, literally "Korach took", mean that Korach suffered the consequences of not waiting until he was given from Heaven, but rather, he wanted to take by himself. This does not mean that we need to wait passively in our lives. We need to make efforts. However, we cannot force a flower to open before it is ready, or force a butterfly out of its cocoon. The process of becoming takes patience, like the seed that takes time to germinate, sprout and grow. (See R' Sherril's post above.)

Rabbi Schachar will be leading a discussion about the Poetry of Rav Kook this weekend at the retreat. Here he shares a quote on "Creation and Study" from Rav Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook z"l:

"Those endowed with the soul of a creator must create works of imagination and thought. They cannot confine themselves in shallow studies alone. For the flame of the soul rises by itself and one cannot impede it on its course." -Light of Holiness, p. 216.

Dr. Yakov Rabkin wrote a tongue-in-cheek French opinion piece about the ramifications of Law 21 and it got published in La Presse: Attention à la foi dissimulée sous un foulard Hermès

Upcoming @ MOS:

Stay tuned for upcoming August launch of "Hebrew through Torah" with Rabbi Schachar.

Other Events of Interest:

Rabbi Schachar will be offering Yin & Yang Yoga, together with Eva Ifrah Mondays, July 15 - Aug 5, 7:30-9 pm, at Dharma Den, 2195 Regent Ave #1. Space is limited. Reservations recommended


Here is our weekly "5-Point Parasha", a short list of what we are enjoying or pondering, as it relates to life and Torah.

Rabbi Schachar shares the purpose of life in a nutshell based on this week's parasha:

At the beginning of the parasha (Bamidbar/Numbers 13:2), G!d instructs Moshe Rabenu to send people to scout the land of Canaan. The Hebrew word for "to scout"is וְיָתֻ֨רוּ֙ . The Chasidic Master, Kedushat Levi, Rabbi Levi Itzchak of Berditchev, says that this word actually relates to the word, "Torah". Moshe sent the men out to infuse Canaan with Torah! Our life purpose, similarly, is to spread, Torah, wisdom, spirituality into the world.

Rabbi Schachar shares another Chasidic take on the purpose of life:

My family was once connected to the Radomsker Rebbe. The Radomsker says that the Hebrew word for "to scout" comes from the word, התרה, meaning, "to release". Moshe sent the people to release the captive holy sparks in the Land of Canaan. In this understanding, our life purpose is to find ways of releasing all the holy sparks in the world.

Cantor Heather shares what music she is listening and invites you to listen too:

Here are a couple versions of Ahavat Olam that I have been listening to on Spotify. I would love to know what people think of them:

Ahavat Olam #1

Ahavat Olam #2

A teaching on b-mitzvahs from our very special guest this upcoming week, prolific author, Reb Goldie Milgrom:

"Jewish Approaches to Vision Quest"

What is Hitbodedut?

Vision quest many have heard about as a Native American tradition, it is also an ancient part of Jewish practice, documented in the Bible. Again and again the primary metaphor of Moses’ adult life is that of climbing a mountain in order to speak his heart and receive the insight and guidance he needed to sustain a meaningful life for the people in his charge. The importance of being able to reach out beyond yourself in this way, to pour out your soul and be able to listen for guidance is something youth deserve to experience and know how to do.

What Moses did, hitbodedut, "making oneself alone" with G*d, is an important practice. Ideally experienced out in nature, Hassidic lore records teachings of how hitbodedut can be done inwardly, even on a crowded subway car.

I recommend beginning in a nice private spot in nature where a person need not be at all self conscious. For a B-mitzvah student, a camping trip with family or peers and teachers is a good launching ground. It is possible to get lost out there, so be sure to read up on safety considerations.

Hitbodedut is simple to do. Begin to speak out loud as though heard. Let the words pour out, any content is acceptable, no holds barred. You can inveigh, praise, plead, and muse. The major thing is not to stop at all.

If a dry spell comes, not words seem to be available, just make sounds until the next thing that needs to be said arrives. And when nothing more can possibly come, and yet does, keep going, until it is all out there, spoken.

Now simply, wait, walk if you like, and listen, look, and notice the hint, clarification or full-blown knowing that tends to come.

For some, what is said and heard will feel to private to share. For others, debriefing within a group or with a mentor will be very helpful. Celebrate the return of the youth from their hitbodedut with a spontaneous blessing from your heart.

Excerpted from Reclaiming Bar/Bat Mitzvah as a Spiritual Rite

See her great website

Since Reb Goldie will be speaking about her new anthology of stories about Reb Zalman, here is a quote of his to ponder:

“The awareness that we stand in the presence of the Living God is one of the most important realizations we can install in our operative consciousness. God is always present. The question is, how present are we? We want to stand in that Presence without opacity. Our work is to penetrate, in meditation and in action, to the very heart of being nokhach penei ha-Shem (Lamentations 2:19), of being truly present before God.” ― Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, Davening: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Prayer

Upcoming @ MOS:

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