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Community Teachings

06/11/2019 08:41:02 PM


Do you have insights to share with the CBE community?   This page is intended to share teachings by members of our community.   Please submit any teachings to Rabbi Mike that you would like to share.  

Shabbat Shirah D'Var Torah - January 29, 2021 - Judy Kramer

01/29/2021 06:00:31 PM


A couple of months ago I took a class about the Canadian-Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who is perhaps best known for the song “Hallelujah.” Calling him a singer-songwriter is probably a bit of a misnomer, as he began his career as a poet and a novelist, and it is indeed the poetry of his lyrics that make his music stand out. He turned to songwriting because, well, it’s hard to make a living as a poet.  It took him five years to write Hallelujah and he wrote about 80 verses, though only a handful were ever recorded and performed. It’s been covered by dozens of artists, including just last week by Gospel singer Yolanda Adams at a ceremony for the victims of Covid the night before the inauguration.  I think Cohen would have approved.

He said of this song: “This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled. But there are moments when we can… reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah.’  He said “the song explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value. It’s a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion.”

Another of Cohen’s songs that is less well known is one called simply “Anthem.”  Its message of hope in the midst of darkness is well captured in the refrain:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

The verses of this song describe in Cohen’s beautifully poetic way the evils in society that tend to repeat time and again. These are the cracks, the imperfections in our world. One verse goes:

Ah, the wars they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again
Bought and sold, and bought again
The dove is never free.

And another:

I can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
A thundercloud
They're going to hear from me.

Although Cohen wrote this song in 1992, there is so much resonance with today’s world,  where wars - military, cultural and political - are still being fought. These are the dark and difficult places, the brokenness in our society and our systems. We have seen up close this past month anger, bitterness and divisiveness, but we’ve also seen hope for a new path forward. For every dark turn, we look for ways to fix the brokenness, to learn from our mistakes and heal.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

This week’s Torah portion, from the book of Exodus, is “B’Shallach” (which means “when let go”). The Israelites have just been set free from Egypt and are embarking on the next step in their journey.  As I have learned from my two Rabbis (See! I was paying attention!), Mitzrayim, the word for Egypt, also means straits or narrow places. Certainly, the Israelites are emerging from the darkest and narrowest of places – generations of slavery and oppression.

In this portion they are faced with a series of challenges, not the least of which is Pharaoh’s change of heart and the confrontation with the Egyptian soldiers at the Sea of Reeds. It is a familiar story - the Israelites cross the sea successfully, but the Egyptians are drowned. Celebrating on the other side Miriam leads the Israelites in song and dance, and an extended poem – Miriam’s Song of Triumph – is inserted into the Torah narrative. This is why this Sabbath is also known as Shabbat Shirah – or Sabbath of Song. The poem contains the words of the prayer Mi Chamocha that we say every day.

But much as we like happy endings, the Torah portion does not end here. The celebration on the other side would not last for long. As the Israelites continue their journey, perhaps free from the worry of Egyptian pursuit, they face new and different challenges – finding sources of food and water and confronting new enemies.  For forty years they wander, but with help from God and Moses, they persevere.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

As a people, over the centuries, we have faced so many difficult times – exile, persecution, genocide, discrimination. We have sought safety and freedom in this country, yet hear the drums of darker times echoed on our streets, in our cities, and yes, even in seats of government.

But with every difficult experience, there are insights gained and new understanding. We continue to fight – to look for ways to counter the cracks in our society.

It has been a challenging year to say the least, as we have navigated a great many straits and narrow places. Pandemic, political strife and an assault on our democratic principles that I have not seen in my lifetime. We have not yet come out the other side, but we have faced these challenges with resilience, political will and new skills. We have dedicated ourselves to combatting racism and anti-Semitism through social justice initiatives and worked for candidates who represent our values. We have addressed climate change with our new solar array. Many of us have been forced into a new relationship with technology.  The choir selections you are hearing tonight come to you by way of the magic of computers and the persistence, courage, and talents of some very amazing people. 

Life will never be free from trials but getting through the difficult times is how we learn and grow.  To repeat what Cohen said of “Hallelujah”: “This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled. But there are moments when we can… reconcile and embrace the whole mess. “

We will emerge from this dark time into the light, and as the Israelites and Miriam did, we will sing and dance together again.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

Below, Judy read's her drash:

Chanukah 5781 Virtual CBE Coffee House Poetry

12/17/2020 01:22:51 PM


During Chanukah, some powerful and beautiful poetry was presented by Rabbi Mike, Robert Grappel, and Leann Shamash.  Click Read More for the links!


Click here for Rabbi Mike's poem, Tinder, Ember,...

The Great Jewish Latke Fry-Off Recipes - Chanukah 2020

12/16/2020 07:00:00 PM


This year, we featured a spoof of the beloved show, The Great British Bakeoff.  But in classic Chanukkah style, it had a twist: it was a fry off!

Jon Linden, our MC, stood in for Sue and Mel in this version, hosting the show and keeping the laughs coming.

Don Hoban, Matt Kontoff and Marissa Krampf, our esteemed panel of judges, stood in the shoes of the great Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, with the slight...Read more...

Parashat chukat - June 26 2020 , ד׳ תמוז תש - Ronny Almog

06/26/2020 11:42:41 AM


Parashat chukat opens with the famous red cow ritual (Bamidbar 19). Rabbi Mike recently described it as one of the strangest mitzvot. It explains how to purify a person who had come into contact with a corpse, and involves slaughtering a red cow, burning it,...Read more...

Judaism as a Verb - Yom Kippur 5780/ 2019 - Sue Abrams

10/11/2019 09:34:30 AM


I invite you to join me in a journey to think of Judaism as a verb…

As the plane descended to the El Paso airport I looked out the window at the dusty landscape and thought about how I’d gotten there. El Paso was definitely not on my top ten places to go….But here I was, accompanied by a gigantic duffle bag crammed with stuffed animals and children’s books in Spanish. I was there to volunteer at a shelter on the border, giving...Read more...

Sanctuary - Rosh Hashanah 5780/2019 - Cindi Silverman

10/11/2019 09:27:54 AM


I begin with a story.

A woman, I will call her Sophia for her own privacy, came to the United States from a Central American country, after witnessing the death of family members and being threatened with her own life. She arrived with her husband and one son nearly thirty years ago. I don’t know how she arrived. I am not allowed to know that personal history. I do know that she lived quietly in the greater Boston area, raising two...Read more...

The Waters Are Risin' - Michael Biales

06/08/2019 07:00:00 PM


Michael Biales shared this at Tikkun L'eil Shavuot, June 8, 2019

In late 2015 during the presidential primaries, I was noodling on the guitar and played a chord progression that I liked and the words “the waters...Read more...

Tikkun L'eil Shavuot - June, 2019/ Leslie Sternberg

06/07/2019 07:30:00 PM


Leslie Sternberg submitted this post to thank all those that contributed to the night of learning.   This summarizes the enriching topics covered that night with contributions from our Rabbi, Cantor and congregants!


Kol Ha Kavod (honor) to the...

Tue, September 28 2021 22 Tishrei 5782