Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kashering Your Kitchen for Passover

It is an extremely important mitzvah to make your house kosher for passover. There are two important components of this process, and I can help the Waterville community in two ways.

1) If you would like to put your hametz in storage and "sell" it until the end of Passover, please email me at: risaacs@colby.edu I would be glad help you with that process.

2) If you are staying at home, you should clean your kitchen to make it kosher for passover. Often it is less of a crazy experience, if you know the ins and outs of the process. I am attaching a kosher for passover guide here. If you have any questions about the content, please let me know.

My Schedules for my Next Two Visits: March 31st-April 3rd and April 15-22nd

My next visit will be March 31-April 3rd

We will have book club on Thursday night, discussing My Father’s Paradise.

On Friday, there will candle lighting and a short learning at Colby College at 5:15 pm on the Bridge.

At Beth Israel Congregation, there will be a potluck dinner at 6 pm and services at 7pm.

Saturday morning we will have services with interactive learning at 9:30 am.

Sunday, I encourage the community to go to the Maine Jewish History conference being held at Colby College. You can get more information here: http://web.colby.edu/jewsinmaine/.

I will be returning for Passover, arriving on April 15th and leaving April 22nd.

On April 15th we will have Friday night services.

On April 18th, there will be first night seder at Colby College at 6:00 pm. It is open to the community – please be in contact if you would like to attend.

On April 19th, there will be second night seder at Beth Israel Congregation. Please be in contact if you are planning on attending.

I will have time during the 20-22nd to meet with students, congregants, and families. As always, if you would like to speak with me during my visit, please contact me at risaacs@colby.edu to set up a time.

My Father's Paradise: Next Book Club Book

Ariel Sabar has great resources for book clubs discussing his book:

Click Here for great questions and additional information!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ambassador Michael Oren on the Current State of the Middle East

A great interview with Ambassador Michael Oren, a personal mentor and teacher of mine, on the current state of the middle east:


Check out this amazing website with tunes for Friday and Saturday services:

You will see a specific section with Carlebach tunes which I hope to integrate in all of our services.

Shabbat Shalom!!!!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Good Intentions are the Path to....

Our portion this week, parashat Sh'mini, begins with a short, distressing story about Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron:

א וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, אֵשׁ זָרָה--אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם.1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
ב וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל אוֹתָם; וַיָּמֻתוּ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה.2 And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

In typical, laconic Biblical style we get a lot of action, but not a lot of details explaining why these two young men were killed when offering incense to God. In contemporary Jewish life, we are so thrilled when young Jews want to be involved that we could not imagine punishing them for worshiping God in their own creative way.

However, at least in the Bible, we know from the earliest times of Cain and Abel, that God does not accept all sacrifices equally. Indeed, more than once are people killed in the Bible for offering inappropriate sacrifices. Due to the lack of detail in the Biblical narrative, a variety of commentators have offered reasons for why these two men were liable for death. Most commentators accuse them of egotism: offering strange fire instead of following the advice and instruction of their father. Some commentators assume that they came into the sanctuary drunk, an act prohibited for priests by the Torah. One midrash claims that they were not dressed appropriately for the occasion.

There is one commentary, however, that claims that their intentions were righteous, but misguided. The Or Ha-Hayyim "sees them as motivated by excessive piety. Out of their love for the divine, they tried to come too close to God who is like a raging fire." (Translation by Etz Hayim Torah Commentary) After approaching God with too much zeal, they were consumed by the Divine's Presence.

Sometimes our intentions matter, but sometimes they do not matter or do not matter enough. We are judged on the results of our actions and not their justifications. Whether Nadab and Abihu were compelled by malice, arrogance, apathy, or religiosity, they offered an inappropriate sacrifice and were punished for their transgressions.

As human beings in the world we always need to make sure that our best intentions lead to the best results through care, consideration, and consultation. This is the ultimate path of holiness and a functional society.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bombing in Jerusalem, Missiles in Be'er Sheva

For those of you who have not heard, there was a terrorist attack in Jerusalem today. Additionally, grad missiles hit Be'er Sheva, the capital of the Negev region of Israel. May we pray for the 25 wounded and for all of our brothers and sisters who live in fear.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Passover is on its Way!

There are many opportunities for Passover this year in Passover:

1) First night seder will be held at Colby College at 6:00 pm on the 18th. Community members are encouraged to come. Please RSVP to me at risaacs@colby.edu . An $18 dollar donation is encouraged for adults and a $10 donation for children.

2) Second night seder will be at Beth Israel Congregation on the 19th. Also please contact me for more information.

3) Passover morning services will be held at 9:00 am on the morning of April 19, 2011 at Beth Israel congregation. We would love to make minyan, so please let me know if you are interested in coming.

Purim: Not all Fun and Games

There are two mitzvot that I want to make the community aware of before Purim:

1) Mishloach Manot: You need to give gift baskets of at least two things to at least two people in your lives.

2) Matanot L'Evyonim: You need to give at least charitable donations or gifts to the poor in honor of Purim as well. I encourage everyone to consider giving to a charity in Japan.

I hope everyone also fulfills the mitzvah of hearing the megillah read this year. Rabbi Susan Carvutto has graciously invited our community to join the Beth El community in Augusta for Purim. Services are at 7 pm on Saturday night and the Purim Carnival is on Sunday morning 10-12 am. You can access more information at http://www.bethelaugusta.org/.

May you have a joyous and meaningful Purim!

Purim: Putting Jews First

Where is God in the Book of Esther? Which chapter, which verse? If you are looking for God in the story of Esther (other than through gematria, an interpretive tool that locates meaning in the numeric value attributed to letters), you will be disappointed. Indeed, Purim is a story all about that which is hidden and hard to find. The name Esther, our hero's name, conveys two important pieces of information: 1) She has a Persian/Akkadian name (her Hebrew name is Hadas) and 2) The term seter סתר, which means secret or hidden, is embedded in her name.

The history of the Persian Jews is similar to our lives today. Most of us have Hebrew and English names, and being Jewish is often a secondary or hidden identity. Moreover, God does not always make God's presence known in an explicit way. As such, it is upon us, the Jewish people, to secure our own safety and success.

At one point, Mordechai says to a scared Esther, that she must speak up and act in order to save the Jewish people: In Esther 4:14, Mordechai adjures:

יד כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת.14 For if you altogether remain silent at this time, do you expect relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place? No, you and your father's house will perish; and who knows whether you have risen to power for this time?'

It has been argued that Purim is a holiday where the covenant with God is restored. Even when God's face is hidden, even far away from the Land of Israel, we rose to the challenge of retaining our commitment to life, Judaism, and most importantly, the Jewish people. We owe the same to our people today, especially when the challenges we face, thank God, are not as dire as those of our ancestors.

Chag Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Smart Sacrifices: Parashat Yayikra

This week, we begin reading the first portion in the Book of Vayikra, aka Leviticus. Rabbis often dread the beginning of vayikra because it is filled with commandments regarding animal sacrifices in the Temple. It is an instruction manual for a world long lost. However, even in a world without a temple, there are still a variety of lessons to be learned from this book in general and this portion in particular.

There were many types of sacrifices. Some of these sacrifices involved the complete incineration of the animal (the olah sacrifice) and others retained some of the meat for the sake of the family offering it, the priests, and the Levites. The Biblical system of sacrifices makes a good deal of sense. If all our sacrifices afford us nothing in return, we will literally burn out. Sometimes we need to give all we have for the sake of our communities or for God. However, at other times, we need to give enough and retain enough to sustain our families and friends. This balance is not selfish, it is simply sustainable.

This week, let us think about whether our offerings are balanced -- some large, some small, but all in proportion.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The New Humanism

A really great article from David Brooks on the lack of attention dedicated to character development.

My favorite quote:

"When we raise our kids, we focus on the traits measured by grades and SAT scores. But when it comes to the most important things like character and how to build relationships, we often have nothing to say. Many of our public policies are proposed by experts who are comfortable only with correlations that can be measured, appropriated and quantified, and ignore everything else."

I believe that the synagogue can and must serve as a place in our society where relationships and character building are central. Hopefully, we will fulfill this mission and others will feel empowered to take on this important task as well.

My Father's Paradise: Next Book Club Book

The next book for book club will be My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar. You can read a synopsis here from the New York Times. I will be back in Waterville on March 31, 2011 to discuss it!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Really Awesome Purim Music.

This is so great! Enjoy:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jews, Jews, Jews, Jews, Jews!

This is a great comedic article from The Atlantic magazine. I chuckled upon reading it, and thought you would all in enjoy.

Shavua Tov (have a great week!)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Making the Place: Lessons from the Mishkan in Pekudei

What do we have room for in our lives? The things we make a place for. In a book I read recently about leadership, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,the author tells a story about a conversation he had with one of his students. The student approaches him and tells him that me needs to miss class for a swimming competition. The teacher responds, "do you need to miss class for the competition, or do you want to miss class. When you have the answer to that question, you can go." The student responds a day later to the author that he wants to go to the competition, but it is truly important to him to attend. The author responds, "you can go and good luck. All I wanted you to acknowledge is that you are making a choice and that you should stand behind it as such."

In the modern world we confuse needs and wants. We often say that we need to do something because we do not want to justify our choices. However, most things in our lives are indeed prerogatives. When we make the time for the things we care about, they will undoubtedly have a prominent place in our lives.

In this week's portion, Parashat Pikudei, we learn about what it means to make a space, a sacred, blessed, and beautiful space for God. The original order for the tabernacle comes from God in Parashat Terumah: (Ex 25:8) "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." God gives detailed instructions and the Israelites begin the work. As the process of building the mishkan comes to a close in our parasha, the mishkan is given an interesting name: mishkan haeiduit, the Tabernacle of Testimony.

Our ancestors asked the question, "What does 'Tabernacle of Testimony' mean?" According to many commentaries, the tabernacle is a testament for the love that God has for Israel. Not only does the Tabernacle represent the effort of the Israelites, but also the love that God shows for Israel by wanting to live among its members.

God dwells in those spaces that we make for The Divine, and through the creation of those spaces, a loving relationship is forged between God and God's people, Israel. This week, let us think about the difference between what we want and what we need. Further, let's double our efforts to make room for God, Torah, community, and synagogue in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A video on the AIPAC- J-Street Relationship

Alan Dershowitz, Professor of Law at Harvard University and Jeremy Ben-Ami debate on how many organizations should be operational in Washington for Israel advocacy. I found this video fascinating and would be excited to discuss it with our communities.