Category Archives: Community Interest

A Bissel Torah – 04/01/2020

Today we found out that last Saturday at 1:30 am, Tikvat Israel, a synagogue in Rockville, MD, was vandalized. A man got out of his car, spray painted swastikas and hateful slogans on the synagogue outer walls, and left. The police are now getting evidence from the synagogue’s video cameras, and will take action as soon as they find the culprit.

We, from congregation Etz Hayim, send our wishes to Tikvat Israel for a speedy resolution to this case and healing from this emotional trauma. And I am baffled. I am angry. I wonder what motivates someone, in the midst of this pandemic, when we are all trying to do our best to eradicate this horrible plague, to go out in the middle of the night and spew hatred on a Synagogue’s property. I know anti-Semitism is irrational. I am angry that instead of taking this time to build and strengthen our fractured world, someone takes his time to create division, instead. Someone spends his time and effort to deepen anger and hurt. And I am incensed that at a time when we all should be pooling our resources to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the police will be spending precious time and resources trying to solve this case.

I truly hope that the police find the culprit and bring him to justice. Yet I hope that something finds a way to change this man’s heart and eradicates intolerance from the hearts of people that are full of hatred. I pray that the Eternal can plant the seeds of love, of understanding, of cooperative living, and of progress on the haters’ hearts. And as I pray every day for a world filled with health and peace, I pray that we all find a way to partner with God in ridding our world of intolerance, sadness, and hurt. Let’s join our hearts together in a search for positive forces that emphasize the thorough healing of our beautiful world.

A Bissel Torah – 03/31/2020

During the Great Revolt that ended with the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70CE, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkay wanted to promote peace, both among Jews and between Jews and Romans. He realized that his fellow Jews were not interested in peace, and were fighting bitterly among themselves. He devised a plan to leave Jerusalem, and negotiated with the Roman general Vespasian to continue rabbinic culture and existence in the city of Yavneh.

Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkay realized there was an issue to be solved, and he found a way to maintain Judaism for the future, responding to the catastrophe of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70CE, and to the predicament of having to do things differently, with a different kind of worship, independent of the sacrificial cult and Temple-centered observances. Judaism had to change, and Jews had to respond to the challenges with reverence for the tradition and openness to the possibilities offered by their experience.

As we prepare for Pessah this year, we too have to respond to these challenging times, with openness to the possibilities and with reverence for our tradition. Our observances will have to be different. Our mechirat hametz, the selling of our hametz, will be done by email/zoom. The biyur hametz, the elimination of hametz, the ceremony for getting rid of hametz in our homes, can continue in our individual homes, yet the burning of the hametz (that I used to do by collecting everything people brought to the Synagogue and burning it in my home) will have to be done in every individual’s place. The Siyum Bekhorot, the finishing of a unit of study so firstborns don’t have to fast on the day before Pessah, will be done virtually. We will not be able to be present at seders in people’s homes.  Here is the schedule of what we are offering at Etz Hayim to help you celebrate the holiday:

1. Mechirat Hametz: Given that we are not supposed to leave our homes, please send me the form through email. Even if you already sent the form through the mail, just send me an email so I can do the selling of the hametz. I will accept your emails until Monday evening, April 6, 2020.

2. Biyur Hametz: This year, in an effort to help people spiritually navigate this challenging time, I will be offering a healing service on Tuesday, April 7, at 8:00pm. We will rid ourselves of our spiritual hametz together, with chants and readings, willing for healing for our whole world during this pandemic.

Time: Apr 7, 2020 08:00 PM
Here is the zoom link:
Meeting ID: 631 250 409
Password: 002197

3. Siyum Bekhorot: We will have a minyan at 8:00am, followed by the Siyum Bekhorot.

Time: Apr 8, 2020 08:00 AM
Here is the zoom link:
Meeting ID: 292 093 109
Password: 026291

4. Seder: If you are hosting a virtual seder and would be able to accommodate other people, please let me know ( If you want to attend a virtual seder, please do the same!

Hag kasher v’sameah,
Bivrachot shalom uvryiut,

Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 03/30/2020

Yesterday I was asked by students in the Religious School why we observe an eighth day of Pessah. Sometimes I feel I would love to have one day less of Pessah, yet most years, when I get to the last day, I feel I could definitely go for longer, especially when I spent so much energy in cleaning and setting up for the holiday.

The short answer is: since we live outside the Land of Israel, we observe 2 days of each biblically mandated holiday. The holiday is 7 days long in the Torah; therefore we add an extra day because we live in the diaspora. The question that follows is: why is the length of the holidays different in the Land of Israel and in the diaspora?

In the Babylonian Talmud, in the tractate Beitzah page 4b we learn the reason for this discrepancy. According to the sage Abaye, before Mishnaic times, the sages would indicate whether the day that just passed was the 30th of the month or the 1st of the coming month, by lighting bonfires atop the mountains of Jerusalem. However, that had to be changed. The Talmud explains: “on account of the mischief of the Samaritans the Rabbis ordained that messengers should go forth.” The Samaritans, who were a group of Jews that did not recognize rabbinic law, would send fire signals at different times to confuse the people, so the rabbis decreed that they would let the people know the correct date of the New Moon (Rosh Hodesh) through messengers. Since the messengers took more time than fire signals, whoever lived outside of the Land of Israel would only be notified later, and would not necessarily be clear on the exact date to start (or finish) a Holiday. For that reason, a second day was added if one lived in the Diaspora. The Talmud says that if the “mischief of the Samaritans ceased, we would all observe only one day. And wherever the messengers arrived in time (depending on the day of the week, since they could not travel on Shabbat), they observed only one day.

Then, why do we have to observe 2 days in the diaspora? After all, we do have established calendars, and we don’t have the “mischief of the Samaritans.”  The Talmud continues: “But now that we are well acquainted with the fixing of the new moon, why do we observe two days?” The Talmud asked the same question that we ask in our times! During Talmudic times, the Jewish calendar was well established. All the internal fighting that resulted from the debate between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Joshua were settled, and the calendar followed the wisdom and reasoning of Rabban Gamliel. The Jewish calendar is a work of genius: since we follow the lunar year, which lasts 292 days, if we did not adjust the calendar we would end up celebrating  Pessah, the spring holiday, in the middle of winter, or we might end up having to fast for 2 straight days if Yom Kippur would fall on a Friday. Why is the Talmud insisting that we who live outside the Land of Israel must observe 2 days for the holiday, and end up having 8 days of Pessah instead of 7? Here is the response of the Talmudic rabbis: “The rabbis sent word from the Land of Israel: Give heed to the customs of your ancestors which have come down to you; for it might happen that the government might issue a decree and it will cause confusion in ritual.” The rabbis believed we needed to maintain our traditions because in the future, a government might come and destroy all the sacred writings and prevent Jewish study, and all knowledge of fixing the calendar would be lost. Tradition would ensure that we kept the wisdom of our calendar and our holidays.

We observe Pessah for 8 days in the diaspora because it is the custom of our ancestors, and we want to continue to be a part of that tradition. Enjoy the 8 days, and create memories with your family and friends to help you connect with the tradition and the community.

B’virkat shalom uvriyut,
Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 03/24/2020

In the Babylonian Talmud, in the tractate Berakhot page 60b, we have a passage that serves as the basis for our daily morning blessings. The rabbis go through what would be a wake up routine, and offer a blessing for each thing we do, from recognizing that we are not asleep anymore, thanking God for our souls, to opening our eyes, leaving our beds, etc. Nowadays, we no longer say these blessings as we go through each act in the morning. We say most of these blessings together in the beginning of our morning service. There are a few blessings that did not make it to the daily tefillah.

The final two blessings are:“When one washes one’s hands one should say: Blessed is God who has sanctified us with God’s commandments and commanded us concerning the washing of hands.”

This blessing is immediately followed by:“When one washes one’s face one should say: Blessed is God who has removed the bands of sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids. And may it be Your will O Eternal, my God, to make me ready to study Your law and make me cleave to Your commandments, and do not bring me into sin, or into iniquity, or into temptation, or into contempt, and bend my inclination to serve You, and remove me far from bad people and a bad companion, and make me cleave to the good inclination and to a good companion in Your world, and let me obtain this day and every day grace, favor, and mercy in Your eyes, and in the eyes of all that see me, and show lovingkindness unto me. Blessed are You, Eternal, who bestows lovingkindness upon Your people Israel.”

And then the rabbis change subject a little bit, determining if a person needs to say a blessing when good things happen as well as when bad things happen (the answer is yes). I was struck by how much the last blessing is bigger that the blessings that preceded it, and how personal it is. I believe one of the reasons for this difference is because as this is the last blessing, we would be saying a longer blessing as a final act of preparation in the morning. Another idea I have is that as we wash our faces we would finally be facing the world, and saying a longer blessing in order to ask protection from the day’s challenges. When we go out to deal with reality, we ask to feel God’s protection. The blessing doesn’t ask God to make us invincible to the dangers of the world; the blessing asks God to help us make good choices, to make choices that enhance our lives, choices that make us feel connected to our community and the world around us, choices that recognize the value of learning, of gratitude and partnership. This blessing reflects the idea that with Divine guidance and our discernment, we are able to live productive lives.This blessing is longer because we recognize that we have choices, some that enhance our lives, and some that don’t, and God’s guidance help us make better choices.

At this time of COVID-19, I feel that we can change the blessings around. We have to wash our hands many more times during the day, choosing to do our part in containing the spread of the virus. I am not advocating saying a blessing every time we wash our hands because we do not have an explicit commandment from God to do so. Yet we know that the washing of the hands is an easy way to help the world be a better place. As we wash our hands throughout the day, I suggest that we set our Kavanah, our spiritual intention for our actions, to reflect the concepts set by the rabbis of the Talmud. We concentrate on making the right choices, on doing our part of the mitzvah of saving lives (pikuah nefesh), of keeping ourselves healthy (shemirat haguf), focusing on not engaging in or condoning risky behavior, and creating space in our hearts to minimize anxiety. A kavanah, an acknowledgement that God is with us when we choose to do the right thing, and our diligent good judgment, will help us make good choices and face with grace and courage the uncertainties of this moment.

A Bissel Torah – 03/27/2020

We hope you will have a good Shabbat, peaceful and healthy.

Mazal tov to Dalia Singer, her parents, Gary and Jeannie, and her siblings, Jacob and Aviva.  We look forward to celebrating this milestone with you later in the year!

And please join us on our Facebook page tonight for Kabbalat Shabbat! You don’t have to be a part of Facebook to join us in tefilah.

Vayikra – Sacrifices and Their Meaning for Us

This week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, starts the Book of Leviticus, called Vaiykra, in Hebrew (we name the Torah portions by the first word that is less common in the Torah, and we do the same for the Books of the Torah. This week we start a new book, so the first Torah portion and the book have the same name). Vayikra describes parts of the sacrificial cult.   The first 3 chapters describe the sacrifices that the rabbis in the Talmud characterized as a nedavah, or voluntary offerings. Chapter 4 and 5 describe a few of the expiation sacrifices.

The idea of sacrifices seems archaic to us. Yet this book, the Book of Leviticus, sits in the middle of the Pentateuch, which I take as a symbol to its centrality in our tradition. The word in Hebrew for sacrifices is korban, which comes from the root k-r-b, the root of the verb “to come close.” In ancient times, the korban brought us close to God. In the texts below we will examine their meaning for us.

A. Dr. Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Parashat Vayikra

The theology of these sacrifices is not explicitly articulated, so we have to take our clues from philology. In the Bible (and elsewhere in the ancient Near East), the terms for sin or misdeed are also the terms for punishment. The deeds that you do (and in fact also the words that you speak) create a new reality. A curse sits out there waiting to land; a misdeed does the same. Moreover, it does not stay up indefinitely: A curse will land where it is sent; an oath or misdeed will come back whence it has come. This is a fact of nature, and does not require an outside judge (divine or human) to make it happen. If you commit an ‘avon, which we translate “sin”, then you will “bear” that ‘avon (nasa’ ‘et ‘avono) unless God intervenes and bears that ‘avon for you (nasa’ avon). If you committed an act and have repented, you can petition God to be gracious and carry it for you. This may or may not work. But if you are not even aware of it, you cannot even petition. Somehow, you seek to protect yourself and family from having the sin land on you. This is the purpose of the expiatory sacrifice: it sets up an umbrella over/upon you (kipper ‘aleichem, ‘alaw) and under it you are shielded (wenislah lahem, lo).

1. According to D. Frymer-Kensky, the Torah does not give us an explanation of the meaning of the sacrifices. She finds a meaning for them by studying the language in the text. By having the same words for sin/misdeed and punishment, what do you think is the message that the Torah is trying to convey to us?

2. The end of our Torah portion describes the expiatory sacrifices. Why does Dr. Frymer-Kensky think the ancient Israelites needed this kind of sacrifice? Do we need/want to have a ritual with a similar meaning in our times? What would a ritual of expiation for unknown sins look like for us?

B. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Prayer is Sacrifice

Prayer is more than meditation, and reading the prayers involves more than reproducing vocally, while following their symbols with the eyes, the words of the liturgy. A third-century scholar avers that it is improper to call upon the person who acts as the reader of prayers for the congregation by saying, Come and pray; we must rather use the words, Come, karev. Since the Hebrew word karev has four meanings, the invitation extended to the person signifies the four tasks which a reader has to fulfill. Karev means “offer our sacrifices, satisfy our needs, wage our battles, bring us close to God!” The statement that since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, prayer has taken the place of sacrifice does not imply that sacrifice was abolished when the sacrificial cult went out of existence. Prayer is not a substitute for sacrifice. Prayer is sacrifice. What has changed is the substance of sacrifice: the self took the place of the thing. The spirit is the same. In moments of prayer we try to surrender our vanities, to burn our insolence, to abandon bias, hypocrisy, envy. We lay all our forces before God. The world is but an altar. We do not sacrifice. We are the sacrifice.

1. Dr. Heschel establishes a relationship between the cultic practices of the ancient Israelites and our cultic practices. He paraphrases a third century scholar that teaches that the leader of our prayers has tasks to fulfill. Why do you think it is important to use the term karev to invite the person to lead us in prayer? What must this person feel when they are leading the congregation in prayer? When you lead tefilah, do you feel that way?

2. Why is it important for Dr. Heschel to establish that prayer is not a substitute for the sacrifices, that prayer is sacrifice? What, according to him, are we sacrificing when we are in moments of prayer? Do you think this is an important function of prayer in our days?

C. Korbanot: Recovering Our Spiritual Vocabulary. Ira F. Stone

Death is what distinguishes the mortal from the immortal, the Divine from the human. In every place and at every moment that God is present, man is not alone, except at the moment of death; in death, man is fully mortal and God cannot experience this fullness of man’s mortality. Death is the absence of God. Yet, if our mortality cannot be transcended, then it has no meaning. To transcend death is to draw close to God. In sacrifice, man gives back to God that which separates God from man, that is, death. In doing so, man is able, for a fleeting moment, to imagine his own death and, thereby, experience his future immortality as well. No other form of worship brings man so near the fact of his own death and, therefore, no other form of worship is as effective in liberating man from the constraints of life lived in the shadow of that death. Atonement through korban, the drawing closer to God in the experience of death, is no mere ritual but the process by which the potential paralysis of despair is dispelled, allowing the worshipper to act in the world. The power of liturgy to provide an environment for the mortality/immortally struggle into which God is drawn through korbanot is not limited to prayer. The repetition of the sacrificial laws is not to be understood as the functional equivalent of a magical incantation, but rather as the traditional liturgy expressly provides, as a complete, living substitute for that lost, richly-textured and meaningful ritual.

1. According to Dr. Stone, what was the function of animal sacrifice for our ancestors? How do you imagine the ancient Israelite confronted their mortality through this ritual?

2. What is the power of liturgy, according to Dr. Stone? Why should we recite the words of the mussaf service? How can we use prayer as a substitute for that intricate ritual and for the message that it imparted to our ancestors? How will you approach the mussaf service now?

A Bissel Torah – 03/25/2020

The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the most important thing is to not be afraid.

Kol Haolam kulo, Gesher tzar me’od – VeHayikar loh l’fahed klal

I believe many of us have sung this song around a campfire, or in a Jewish retreat, at some point in our lives. The lyrics are attributed to Reb Nachman of Bretslov, one of the central figures of the Hassidic movement. This song reflects the importance of recognizing the difficulties of being a part of this world that sometimes can be a narrow, fragile, constraining bridge. Many feelings bubble up as we contemplate our lives in this world, yet the song recommends: the most important thing is not to be afraid. One may have many feelings, experiences, moods, yet the song advises against being afraid. I can think of many emotions that the song could advise against. Why can I not feel fear? It is an emotion, and sometimes it can be quite helpful, since it can make us vigilant, and force us to be more attentive.

It turns out, though, that this song is based on the writings of Reb Nachman, not his words, verbatim. In the Likutei Moharan, Reb Nachman’s beautiful book of spiritual teachings, he writes (II, 48:7):

“Know, too! A person must cross a very, very narrow bridge. The main rule is: Do not be frightened at all!”

The Hebrew expression that Reb Nachman uses in his writing is yitpahed Klal. This is a little different from the song, which uses the expression l’fahed klal. Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker calls our attention to this different version. She said: “Reb Nachman did not write, “lo l’fahed klal” “don’t be afraid at all” rather he wrote “lo yitpahed klal” which to an ear not familiar to Hebrew might not sound so different, but it makes all the difference in the world. It turns fear from an active verb to a reflective one. It says, the world is a narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to freak ourselves out. Not to “enfear”. It’s not about having no fear, rather it is about operating within the fear without letting it stop us from moving forward.” 

Reb Nachman does not advise us against a feeling, per se. Reb Nachman is advising us to not exacerbate the feeling of fear to the point that it will debilitate us, it will sack our energy, and leave us unable to see but one solution to our problems. Fear narrows even more the already narrow bridge. We feel helpless and paralyzed when we have only one solution, especially a solution that is motivated by our intensified, self-inflicted fear.

I learn from these different versions that the most important thing is to keep a cool head even as I feel an emotion as powerful as fear. I have the ability to cross the narrow bridge, as long as I can see different paths, different solutions to a problem. As we sail the uncharted waters of COVID-19, we can follow Reb Nachman’s teaching. We might be afraid (some say, we should be afraid). That fear will make us vigilant, washing our hands many times a day, observing physical distancing, making us alert to the ways in which we can diminish the effects of the virus. Yet, this does not have to be a debilitating fear.  We should not, as Rabbi Dunsker teaches us, “enfear”, or freak out completely. Fear that will help us solve a problem is a good emotion to have. Fear that will stop us from finding creative solutions is to be avoided, lest we stay stranded on that bridge.   

A Bissel Torah – 03/23/2020

We’re now into our second week of quarantine. In the past week, I have learned a few different skills and embarked in a few different projects. I will share with you some suggestions of learning and meditation:

  1. Adult education on line. Mechon Hadar ( has some great opportunities for learning in this coming week. They have great classes, and wonderful resources for learning Torah on line. If you would like to learn new melodies so you can lead services when we come back to our Sanctuary, they have a great library of Tefilah (Jewish Prayer), and you can choose from their many options.
  2. With Passover coming soon, you might enjoy the opportunity for a good Pessah cleaning. Use the Rabbinical Assembly guide ( to prepare for Pessah!
  3. Try establishing a meditation practice. You can start a daily meditation practice with the aid of a phone app, such as Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace. Headspace has a wonderful free introduction on meditation. On line, a good resource is Dr. Tara Brach (
  4. If you are interested, you may join my class on the Book of Judges, every first and third Thursday of the month at 12:00 pm. Our next class is on April 2, and we will start chapter 9. Let me know if you want to join our zoom conversation!
  5. I am preparing for the siyum bekhorot, the study session to avoid fasting during the hours before the first Seder. I am studying Massechet Sotah. I will be live streaming my class that day, and we will have a virtual siyum. If we have more than 10 people joining the live stream, we will say the kaddish d’rabanan. I will try to work out the Youtube technology for us to connect, since some of us do not use Facebook. You are also welcome to send your forms for mechirat hametz in the mail. I plan on performing mechirat hametz for our community, in a different way.
  6. Please know that I am here and available for conversation and spiritual counseling at this time. Do not hesitate – send me an email (, and we will schedule a zoom call, or a phone call, whatever you prefer.
    B’virkat shalom uvryiut,
    Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 03/20/2020

Shabbat shalom!

Below you will find a description and discussion of what is happening on this Shabbat. I hope you enjoy the reading and that you have discussions with your family about them.

If you are going to join us for Kabbalat Shabbat tonight, and would like to have an e-Siddur to read along, the Rabbinical Assembly is sharing parts of the Siddur Lev Shalem with Conservative congregations. Here is the link:


This week we have a double Torah portion, Vayakhel and Pekudey, it is Shabbat Hahodesh, and we announce the new month of Nissan.

Shabbat HaHodesh is the last of 4 special shabbatot before Pessah. The maftir aliyah reading comes from the Book of Exodus 12:1-20. The maftir describes the different aspects of the celebration of Pessah, connecting us with our ancient past and ensuring we are prepared for the holiday that is coming. Rosh Hodesh Nissan will be on Wednesday night and Thursday.

A summary of the parshiot

At the beginning of the parasha, the commandment to observe the Shabbath is repeated, emphasizing that during Shabbat no work is to be done. Afterward Moshe asks the Israelites to donate gifts of gold, silver, copper, precious stones, fine linen, wood, oil, and spices to be used for building the Tabernacle (mishkan). Moses turns the project over to Bezalel and Oholiab, the skilled artisans chosen by God to oversee the work. They tell Moshe that the people have been very generous and have brought much more than it is necessary to complete the building project (we should be so fortunate!). Moses tells the people to stop bringing their donations. The work begins, as skilled craftspeople work on the cloths, planks, bars, curtains, screens, lamp stands, altars and priestly garments.

With this parasha we complete the book of Exodus. We read about the completion of the mishkan, the tabernacle which the Israelites built in the desert. The Parasha (and the Book of Exodus) ends with the cloud of the Eternal filling the whole tabernacle.

Parasha discussion

  1. At the end of Parasha Pekudey the Israelites finish building the mishkan, the movable tabernacle built for use in the desert. When the work is completed, Moshe anointed the Tabernacle. God’s Presence fills the sanctuary and remains there throughout the Israelites’ journey. The language in the final verses of the Book of Exodus is reminiscent of the language that is used at the end of the first story of creation, in the Book of Genesis, 2: 1-3.

Compare the 2 texts:

A. Tanach – Genesis Chapter 2

  1. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
  2. And on the seventh day God ended God’s work which God had made; and God rested on the seventh day from all God’s work which God had made.
  3. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it God had rested from all God’s work which God created and made.

B. 1. Tanach – Exodus Chapter 39

  1. And Moses looked upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Eternal had commanded, so had they done it; and Moses blessed them.
  2. Tanach – Exodus Chapter 40
  3. Thus did Moses; according to all that the Eternal commanded him, so did he.
  4. (…) So Moses finished the work.
  5. Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Eternal filled the tabernacle.
  6. And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud abode on it, and the glory of the Eternal filled the tabernacle.

As I think about these two texts together, I imagine God taking a deep breath and enjoying everything that was created. When we finish working we can relax. We become the owners of our time again and can enjoy ourselves without the pressures of having something to do. We can also regroup and use this time to reflect upon what we can change in the future. Why do you think that the language and motif are similar in both texts? What is different about them?

  1. In an article called “The Temple and the World,” Dr. Jon Levenson writes:

“We should not be surprised to find that the texts describing the creation of the world and those describing the construction of a shrine are parallel. Each recounts how God brought about an environment in which you can find “rest”. The Sabbath and the sanctuary represent the same moment in the divine life, one of exaltation and regal repose, a moment free of anxiety…”

Dr. Levenson describes the moment of completion of the world, and the moment of completion of the mishkan as a moment of “exaltation and regal repose, a moment free of anxiety…” How can we imitate God and recreate those moments in our lives?

  1. In the prologue of the book “The Sabbath,” Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel writes:

“Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time. In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space. To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective. Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence. To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.”

“Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, except to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face. Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives. Shrinking, therefore, from facing time, we escape for shelter to things of space. The intentions we are unable to carry out we deposit in space; possessions become the symbols of our repressions, jubilees of frustrations.”

“Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike the space-minded person to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, qualitiless, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious. Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals (…). Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms in time, as architecture of time. Most of its observances—the Sabbath, the New Moon, the festivals, the Sabbatical and the Jubilee year—depend on a certain hour of the day or season of the year. It is, for example, the evening, morning, or afternoon that brings with it the call to prayer. The main themes of faith lie in the realm of time.”

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

Dr. Heschel contrasts our mastery of space with our difficulty to build in time. For him, Shabbat is a way in which we can practice being masters of our time, recognizing the preciousness and beauty of time. As this COVID 19 pandemic continues, what are the lessons we can learn from Dr. Heschel’s insights? How can we build that cathedral in time?

With blessings of peace and health,
B’virkat shalom uvriyut,
Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 03/19/2020

Psalm 133 is very short, and very hard to translate. I will share with you how I read it.

A song of ascents. Of David.
How good and how pleasant it is
when people dwell together.
It is like fine oil, enveloping our faces
making us feel like we are part of the priesthood
dressed in their exquisite garments.
It feels like the dew of Mount Hermon,
spreading their goodness all over Zion.
There the Eternal ordained blessing forever; May the whole world experience the blessing of life.
I have said many times in our congregation that every translation is an interpretation. Mine definitely is. In my interpretation, this psalm extols the virtues of communal life. First we are told that communal life is good. The psalm continues by telling us how it makes a person feel, comfortable in our skins, and important as part of this special people. It gives us the sustaining power of dew, maintaining us nourished. This is nourishment that comes from Zion, the place from where God distributes blessings to those gathered in community, and the power of that experience brings the blessing of life to the whole world.

We’re now experiencing a shift in our definition of community. We were used to gather in person. We now gather in a virtual community. We have a challenge, to feel a sense of community through this different medium, to feel connected to each other, and to be nourished by it in order to disseminate God’s blessings to the world. One way of feeling connected is through song.

At the end of this posting, there is a video of me singing the first line of this psalm. It says: Hineh mah tov umah na’yim shevet achim gam yachad. Which means: “How good and how pleasant it is when people dwell together.” Join me in singing, and let’s bring God’s blessings to this world that is sorely in need of those.

Rabbi Lia Bass

A Bissel Torah – 03/18/2020

Today, I offer you a prayer for this turbulent time.

Make me like the disciples of Aharon HaKohen,
Loving and pursuing peace,
extending kindness to all human beings
and bringing them close to the teachings of our tradition.[1]

When there is a need for healing, may I be present, with love.
When there is darkness and misunderstanding, may I bring the light of our tradition.
When our community feels depleted, may I bring the strength to inspire us to be there for one another. When sadness overtakes other feelings, may I have an open heart.
When fear is all that can be sensed, may I be able to see the goodness that exists in our world.
When insecurity and misunderstanding threaten our human connection, may I have the strength to bond with my different communities.

At this time, when we are all confused and afraid, I urge us to find different ways to connect with each other. We do have to practice physical distancing, ensuring that we are conscientious about our health and the health of other people. I prefer the term “physical distancing”, which implies that even though we cannot be in the same place at the same time, we know that we are here for one another, that our community cares, and that we are loved. Let us not allow this quarantine to separate us in spirit. When we feel disconnected, or when staying at home takes its toll, make a phone call, send an email or a text to people we haven’t talked in a while. Or share with our friends and families some of the things we are doing during this time. Let’s ensure that we don’t have communal distancing.

B’virkat shalom VeBriyut,
With blessings of peace and health,

Rabbi Lia Bass

[1] Adapted from Avot D’Rabbi Nathan, 12:1