Halakhah Corner

2/26/15 – All the commandments of Purim are about noticing the face of the other. We are supposed to pay for at least two meals for those in need, whom we all too easily ignore. At Purim we must notice them. We are supposed to offer gifts to our friends as we make a special point of noticing the people in our lives for whom we care. We celebrate, revealing aspects of ourselves that sometimes we hide. And finally, we read the Megillah, to uncover God’s hiddenness in the world.

10/30/14 – Abraham is the exemplar of hospitality. I invite you to open your home, to reach out, because sharing a meal, especially a Shabbat meal, is a mitzvah that has a unique ability to transform both host and guest for good and blessing.

10/15/14 – It is a mitzvah to serve God in joy. As Sukkot conclude, I invite you to find joy in your own life. Maybe it’s through being with friends, or watching the Giants play baseball, or shaking a lulav and etrog. Whatever it is, make some time for it and allow that joyous experience to be an act of devotion. That is serving God in joy!

10/2/14 – The Bible commands us five times to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur. From this, the Rabbis derive five specific behaviors for Yom Kippur. First, we refrain from eating or drinking for the full 25 hours of Yom Kippur.  Second, we refrain from anointing ourselves with makeup or aftershave. Third, we refrain from wearing any leather.  Fourth, we do not bathe. And fifth, we refrain from sexual intercourse. The later four behaviors recall mourning practices as well, giving Yom Kippur a sense of immediacy, as we play act our own deaths to remind ourselves that our time on earth is limited, and each day a precious gift.

9/11/14 – It’s this time of year when we hear the Shofar each day. That daily sounding is intended to awaken something in us that can transform who we are. It is a call to attention, to take note of our actions and self and realize in hope that we can wake up and grow.

8/29/14 – We are commanded to stay away from dishonesty. We usually focus on how we interact with others. Yet this is also a command to stay true to the self and to be honest. We need to be honest when we are challenged or hurt and be willing to share those shadows. That self honesty is a key step towards teshuvah, towards the kind of change in self we want to effect at the High Holidays.

8/21/14 – The Torah tells us to “refrain from creative labors” on Holy Days and Shabbat because they are “declared holy.” I believe that the refraining itself brings the feeling of holiness. I invite you this week to let go of that in ourselves that creates and builds in order to appreciate something else, of being with all that is. In particular, this could be a good week to use no internet connected devices or to put away cell phones for 25 hours. Or perhaps to refrain from any use of money or commerce. I wish you a Shabbat of true rest!

6/3/14 – As we get ready to receive Torah, we make an extra effort to attune ourselves to Torah through a few practices. One is to eat dairy, and refrain from meat to elevate our souls. Another is to engage in Torah study.

5/22/14 – It is the custom, when gathering for a minyan, to refrain from counting people. God tells us that we will be beyond counting. And yet, this week’s reading includes a census! This shows an occasional need to do some numeric analysis. The halakhic point here is that people are never numbers. We are each infinite, even though sometimes certain ways of counting or tallying may produce something positive. So we can count, but by saying not one, not two, or using the verses of a psalm with a certain set number of words. That way people remain noticed in their infinite quality.

5/15/14 – The Torah warns us from oppressing people. The Talmud gives this value a mitzvah: do not verbally harm people. It is forbidden to remind people of their past misdeeds because such reminders, paradoxically, make it harder to change. Torah instead invites a community in which we support people’s moral and spiritual growth in affirmative ways.

5/1/14 – Counting the Omer is done by the day and week. The Omer is counted with a blessing after full dark each day (that’s why we can’t count the Omer at Minyan any longer).  One great resource for counting is:  Counting the Omer

4/10/14 – If you would like me to sell your hametz, please send me an email designated me your agent to sell your hametz. It is also customary at such a moment to make a donation to causes dedicated to ending hunger.

3/13/14 – There are four mitzvot associated with Purim. The first is to hear the Megillah in its entirety. Second is to send gifts of food to friends. Third is to send food to the hungry. And fourth is to celebrate!

3/6/14 – As we draw near to Purim, there are several key mitzvot associated with the holiday. #1: Send food to the poor. I urge you to find time in the next few weeks to make a donation to Second Harvest, the Kol Emeth Shelter Initiative, or some other means of helping those who are homeless and hungry.

2/27/14 – Shabbat ends at 6:43 this week. I invite you to notice that moment in Havdalah. Here is a link to the service – http://www.jewfaq.org/prayer/havdalah.htm. It takes five minutes or so and is a way of strengthening us to enter the week with centered, ready, and filled with blessings.

2/20/14 – One key element of Shabbat is refraining from financial endeavors. I invite you this week to do nothing financial on Shabbat. And to breathe in the relief that creates!

2/13/14 – Shabbat is the only mitzvah, says the Sfat Emet, that retains its original divine intent wholly. Shabbat is a day in which it is uniquely possible to be in touch with our truest selves and to acquire compassion and strength to be a blessing in the world. Start your Shabbat observance this week by turning off all your media and internet, and instead focusing yourself on values and people.

2/6/14 – According to the Sfat Emet, the mitzvot are the means by which we prepare the body so that we can have “God dwell in our midst.” Mitzvot in general then are a spiritual practice that elevates and creates a spiritual readiness. I invite you to bring that intention into any mitzvot you perform this week. You might say over candle lighting for example, may this act prepare me to see the holy in my life. Or may this lighting make me a light for God.

1/22/14 – Observe the Shabbat and keep it holy! There is something amazing to be gained from the quiet of Shabbat. I invite you to turn off your cellphone and internet for 25 hours this weekend and to be fully present to family, to friends, and to God.

12/5/13 – Daily prayer is a Torah based commandment. While there are many liturgical expressions to prayer, the minimum is to recite the shma and to stand in communion / contemplation of God. Prayer is healing and gives strength to stay true to ourselves.

11/27/13 – The Bible tells us: eat, be satisfied, and give thanks. This is a reminder from God to take the moment of satiety as a moment of blessing. By noticing and appreciating our fulfillment, we enable ourselves to appreciate it more deeply. I invite you to fulfill this commandment at every meal, whether through the traditional liturgy or by pausing at the conclusion of the meal to bless and appreciate God.

11/21/13 – The dangers of gossip and evil words pervade this Torah portion. Joseph speaks ill of his brothers, the brothers speak ill of him, and it leads to disaster. Guarding our tongues from gossip and evil speech is both within our power and of tremendous impact.

11/14/13 – When taking one’s leave from a friend, the Talmud invites us to share a word of Torah with one another. I love this practice because it means we leave with a sense both of meaning and continuing the relationship. I encourage people to practice this in their goodbyes this week, to share a thought or value as you leave.

11/7/13 – Media is the great idol of our time. Our inability to unplug weakens our focus and spiritual capacity. Try taking this Shabbat off media and cellphones. Go to shul. Take a walk. Connect with people about whom you care. Eat good food. Try.

10/31/13 – Blessings are about noticing the sacred all around us. I invite you to say food blessings this week with a moment of awareness and appreciation.

10/24/13 – Hachnasat Orchim, hospitality, is one of the great mitzvot of Judaism. It offers literal sustenance, but also a sense of being accompanied in life, being known and heard. There is a related practice of accompanying one’s guests outside at the end of the event to make explicit our desire to walk together.

10/17/13 – Visiting the sick is among our holiest of commandments. Visitors may be unable to change pain – that is the job of doctors, nurses, and care givers – but they can alleviate suffering and so bring healing. And visitors uncover their own ability to be a blessing.

10/10/13 – Circumcision is the key Jewish commandment. It is both how we identify ourselves as part of a people and how we name a certain style of spirituality. Sfat Emet teaches that removing the foreskin is a way of physically showing the need to uncover that which is hidden in ourselves and in the world. Circumcision even takes precedence over Shabbat- it is at the core of Jewish belonging. It is something parents do to their children, and so it touches intensely both men and women.

10/3/13 – Rabbi Soloveitchik teaches that the Torah does in fact begin with a commandment- the commandment to create the self. The possibility of Teshuvah means that we are able to choose in each moment, with each breath, who we will be. Our self creative powers are much greater than we usually imagine.

9/17/13 – Sukkot is filled with delicious commandments. I choose to focus on one – we are commanded to be happy at Sukkot. Make a point this holy day of uncovering joy. Perhaps it will be through singing Hallel in Synagogue. Or from watching a comedy routine. Or a terrific hike. Whatever it is, find joy and then allow that joy to empower and elevate you.

9/12/13 – The Bible commands us five times to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur. From this, the Rabbis derive five specific behaviors for Yom Kippur. First, we refrain from eating or drinking for the full 25 hours of Yom Kippur. Second, we refrain from anointing ourselves with makeup or aftershave. Third, we refrain from wearing any leather. Fourth, we do not bathe. And fifth, we refrain from sexual intercourse. The later four behaviors recall mourning practices as well, giving Yom Kippur a sense of immediacy, as we play act our own deaths to remind ourselves that our time on earth is limited, and each day a precious gift.

8/29/13 – It is a practice for the 2nd Day of Rosh Hashanah to eat a new fruit to say shekheyanu, the prayer of appreciation. This is a special practice to add a feeling of gratitude to the day.

8/22/13 – As we get ready for the Holy Days, now is the time for reflection, for quiet, for a different mode of living that helps connect us with something deep inside. As a result, I invite all of us to silence our cell phones and internet connections this Shabbat to make room for a more focused, present day of rest.

8/15/13 – Getting ready for the High Holidays includes creating spiritual space in our days. I would therefore invite you to an evening minyan at 7:45, Sun-Thursday. This is a short pause in our lives, a chance to fulfill the commandment of worshipping God and reciting the Shma, as we slow down and allow ourselves the much needed time for reflection that makes the Holy Days meaningful.

8/8/13 – From the beginning of Elul it is the practice to hear the Shofar each morning as an invitation to introspection. I invite all of us to take this month for heshbon hanefesh, for a time of introspection of self to ready ourselves for the coming holidays.

5/10/13 – In Bamidbar there is a census of the people. Yet the Halakhah enjoins us against counting Jews for we should be “as numerous as the stars in the heavens.” We count only when God commands. Thus, when we assemble a minyan people often count by using a verse with ten words rather than numbers, or by saying “not one, not two.” All these practices remind us of the essential uniqueness of each human soul, especially in this era of big data and aggregate numbers.

5/2/13 – Torah has a great sensibility to language. We are commanded to refrain from oppressing our neighbor. In addition to economic practices, that also includes language. We may not remind someone of their past misdeeds or of the misdeeds of their ancestors. This simple care in speech creates room for people to change and a societal imperative to accept that change.

4/25/13 – During the counting of the Omer, some adopt practices usually associated with mourning. These include refraining from hair cuts and staying away from live music. Lag Ba Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, is usually a day of celebration. We lift these prohibitions and really enjoy. I invite you to find a moment of music, of dance, of joy this Lag Ba Omer!

4/18/13 – The Torah forbids placing a stumbling block before the blind. Tripping a blind person is all about catching them unawares and making fun of their disability. As a result, the Rabbis derive a general sensitivity. Avoid embarrassing people, especially in their “blind spots” and avoid tempting people in ways that are hard for them to resist.

4/11/13 – The Rabbis use this Torah portion of Tazria Metzora to warn us about lashon harah, literally bad speech. We so often speak of others, putting them down, exposing their flaws – or more to the point, our projection of flaws onto others. This week, I invite all of us to refrain from speaking ill of others and to experience the way we can then be healed of this inner blight.

3/21/13 – As Pesach begins, we ready ourselves for the holiday by cleaning our homes. Hametz should be cleaned and removed from the house by Sunday night, with the last chance to eat hametz on Monday at 10am. Happy Pesach!!

3/14/13 – There is still time to sell your hametz. Please send me a completed form or return email by Friday March 22nd and I will sell your hametz. Please leave the hametz in a closed designated location until 10pm on April 2nd.

2/28/13 – Pesach is coming! It’s time to begin preparing and cleaning the house. We are commanded to own no hametz nor to have any in our homes. As a result, this is a good time to finish up products that contain wheat, oats, barley, spelt or rye.

2/21/13 – The central mitzvah of Purim is to hear the Megillah read in public.  This is a key moment to gather together, to turn from sorrow to joy.  Yom Kippur is the day in which we approach God through self examination and honest introspection; Purim is the day we approach God through joy.  The Megillah Reading will take place at Kol Emeth at 7pm Saturday night and again as part of our 9:15 service Sunday (probably around 10:15) morning.

2/14/13 – Synagogues customarily face Jerusalem. In the Ashkenazi world, including the United States, that has always meant East facing. However, the Bay Area and the rest of the coastal northwest are actually closer on a northern polar route to Israel. Nevertheless, the Sanctuary should face East for two reasons. First, the sources did not envision travel over the poles. Thus, we face the closest longitudinal route. Second, we maintain a consistent practice as a region so that we are all inclined in the same direction, and so we avoid a practice where a Synagogue in the rest of the United States would face differently from one in Palo Alto.

2/7/13 – Mitzvot are the action clothing associated with Torah values. The Torah says: stay far from dishonesty. And we understand: act with integrity. However, the Halakhah is clear that acting from integrity does on rare occasions include lying, such as a white lie or when lying protects an innocent person from persecution. Act with integrity so that our words and actions bring integrity into the world.

1/31/13 – God says “Remember the Shabbat.” According to the Talmud, this specifically means to recite Kiddush Friday night and Saturday. That pause of awareness, our naming and noticing the holiness of the Shabbat, is the means by which we allow holiness and true rest to enter our lives.

1/24/13 – The 613th mitzvah is to write a Sefer Torah. By writing the words we make them a part of ourselves. Being involved in the writing or restoration of a Torah fulfills this mitzvah even if the person donates to have the writing done. Our Tikkun Torah project, to which you can still donate, is one means of making this mitzvah a part of your spiritual practice.

1/17/13 – The first communal mitzvah, the commandment to remember the Exodus, occurs in Exodus 12. It is a commandment to set aside time to gather together for a meal, to tell the story of who we are, and to remember from whence we have come. By focusing ourselves on gratitude, on appreciation, and on values, we then orient ourselves towards where we are going.

12/20/12 – In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, all I can suggest is: hug your children and grandchildren. Reach out to friends. In these days of literal darkness, be a light of hope and comfort to those who have experienced loss or who struggle with depression and sadness. In such actions we can remember and honor the innocent souls who have been taken from us far too soon.

12/13/12 – The Hanukkah candles can only be enjoyed, they cannot be used for any purpose. The Shamash is there to provide light, lest we use the light of the other candles, and to light each candle, lest we use another candle to light. They are purely to be seen and enjoyed. Some hold that no work should be done while they are burning but only Hanukkah celebration.

12/6/12 – Hanukkah candles become sacred once lit. They can only be appreciated; they cannot be used for their light or warmth. In this way, the lights each night become symbols of hope, gratitude, and faith.

11/29/12 – CNN reports that every adult American shopped either online or at a store the Friday after Thanksgiving. While I suspect the number is exaggerated, it shows the power of commercial endeavors in our lives. Shabbat is a time to refrain from buying and selling or from handling money. It is a respite and a chance to allow our spending choices to be values driven. I invite you this Shabbat to do nothing of a commercial nature, and instead to appreciate the blessings you have in front of you.

11/21/12 – We are commanded to eat, be satisfied, and then bless. I urge you to say some version of the Grace after Meals after your Thanksgiving feast. Transform the act of eating, the sense of fulfillment, into an act of gratitude and blessing.

11/8/12 – Every kind of food has a particular blessing. The blessing over bread is probably the best known because a meal so often includes bread. Bread is a mark of civilization and of divine human partnership. When we bless bread we say: Praised Are You, ruler of all, who brings forth bread from the Earth. I encourage you this week to say this blessing at each meal with a pause to reflect on the blessings laid out before you at the table and in life. For my own practice, this brief pause of blessing is a great reminder to appreciate and to bless.

10/30/12 – From Shimini Atzeret, usually in Mid-October, until Pesach, in the beginning of April, we praise God who brings the wind and the rain. Such prayers are recited even in the midst of devastating storms. However, there is a practice when the prayers are first recited, and that some use in the midst of a storm, to add the words: God who brings the wind and rain – may it be for a blessing and not for a curse. May indeed the wind and rain come as a blessing, as a force of life, and not as a curse.

10/17/12 – Another outcome of Rabbi Nevin’s teshuvah on electricity on Shabbat is that we can use those electrical devices that lead to permitted activities provided there is no writing /record keeping involved in their usage. For this reason, a credit card is forbidden as using results in a record that is desirable on the part of the user. By contrast, a hotel access card can be used. Though the hotel may keep a record of such entries and exits, the user neither desires this nor needs the record for the action (gaining access to the hotel).

10/11/12  Rabbi Danny Nevins has written a terrific Teshuvah (Rabbinic responsum) on the topic of electricity on Shabbat. Read the Teshuva. The teshuvah focuses us on USAGE rather than electricity itself. One gleaning: modern cell phones should not be used on Shabbat because they inevitably create writing and records as a result of their usage.

10/4/12  On Sukkot we are commanded to rejoice. In particular, we are supposed to find a deep abiding joy through the specific commandments of Sukkot, including being outside in the Sukkah and taking hold of the four species. So this week is a terrific time to connect with joy through the natural world, both in Jewish ritual ways, as well as in other modes such as hiking.

9/27/12  We are commanded to own our own lulav and etrog. Each household needs to have their own. When people arrive at shul without, they are then “gifted” someone else’s or that of the Synagogue so they hold their own lulav and etrog in their hands. We are supposed to own our Judaism: it doesn’t get subcontracted out.

9/20/12  We are commanded by the Torah to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur. We understand this to forbid five behaviors. First, we neither eat nor drink. Second, we wear no jewelry. Third, we do not anoint ourselves or wear makeup. Fourth, we wear no leather. And finally, we refrain from marital intimacy. These five ascetic practices turn us away from our physical selves and help us focus entirely on the spiritual.

9/13/12  Isaiah teaches that God will wash away our sins and leave us as pure as the driven snow. As a result of this verse, many have the practice of wearing white at Yom Kippur. In addition, some take this practice a step further and wear a kittel, a plain white robe. Yom Kippur is a day to avoid ego and to turn ourselves towards deep questions of value. The kittel avoids the normal daily concern of what to wear and the worry of how I will be seen. It focuses us immediately that this day is different – suggesting that we too can be different.

9/6/12  “You should be blessed in your coming and in your going.” This inscription is on the highway into Jerusalem and many other cities in Israel. The verse also inspired the traveler’s prayer. Travel is a moment of potential. It can be inspirational and transformational, or disruptive and dark. The prayer asks for God’s protection and orients us in a holy way, to keep ourselves on own intended paths, as we set out. Read the Traveler’s Prayer on the Hillel website.

8/30/12 Upon waking up, says the Shulchan Aruch, we ought to wash our hands and recite the following blessing: Praised are You, God, ruler of All, who makes us Holy and Commands us to wash (or raise up) the hands. It takes a simple ritual: handwashing – and elevates it into a way of setting an intention as the day begins. I start, orienting myself to my true inner self, and through an act of cleansing prepare myself for the day.

5/17/12 The Bible commands us to leave the corners of our field to the poor. As Meredie Cohen, last week’s Bat Mitzvah taught, this practice is a way of helping the poor and offering those in need a feeling of dignity. One way of bringing this practice into the world today is to donate 3% of our grocery budget to Second Harvest. They offer groceries to families in need. Rather than accepting a handout, this allows people in need the dignity of preparing meals for their families.

5/10/12 Learning is one of the great commandments in Judaism because it enables all the others. As we count up to Shavuot on the night of May 26th, this could be a good time to rediscover the mitzvah of Torah learning. If you do not own one already, you can purchase Etz Hayim, our wonderful Humash, at Amazon and elsewhere. The commentaries, maps, and articles, make it easy to open up and begin to learn.

5/3/12 We often relate to the world through the lens of economic relations and the consumption of goods. Shabbat invites a different mode in which we invest in our spiritual selves and in community. As a result, Shabbat practice includes refraining from economic relationships. Consider this Shabbat refraining from buying or selling or paying bills. Allow Shabbat to offer a different mode of being in the world.

4/26/12 We are in the midst of counting the omer, a ritual dating from the Biblical era. The Bible commands us to gather a sheaf (an omer) of grain each day and to count. Our practice is to count after dark, at the beginning of the Jewish day. In this way we hold out the possibility of what can be in this new day. The practice is to first say the blessing and then to count both the days and the weeks. This reminds us to take note of the value in each day.

4/19/12 There are a number of practices associated with Yom HaShaoah, Holocaust memorial day. Some have chosen to fast today in memory of the hunger experienced by those in the concentration camps. Others light a 23 hour yahrtzeit candle in their memory. And still others pause for one full minute of memory.

4/5/12 Passover is a “sacred day of assembly.” Joining together as a community is a biblical commandment or mitzvah. We experience redemption first in our homes as we celebrate the Seder, but then join together as sacred community. Services over Pesach occur Saturday and Sunday April 7th and 8th this year at 9:15. Join us as we fulfill this Biblical practice of a sacred convocation to celebrate freedom.

3/29/12 There are three prohibitions around Hametz at Passover. First, we must remove all hametz from our homes. Second, we must eat no hametz during the 8 days of Passover. And finally, we may own no hametz. As a result, hametz is ideally entirely removed from our houses, cars, offices, and so forth. If it is sold, it must be covered and placed in a clearly marked location. Outside of our own homes and spaces, however, we are allowed to see it. We simply cannot own or eat it. If you want me to sell your Hametz, you can designate me as your agent via email.

3/1/12 There are four commandments of Purim. First, to hear the Megillah. At Kol Emeth, we will be reading the Megillah Wednesday, March 7th at 7pm and again Thursday, March 8th at our 6:45am service. Our Carnival and Family Reading takes place Thursday afternoon beginning at 3:30pm. Second, to send food to those who are hungry. One good way to fulfill this commandment is a donation to Second Harvest at shfb.org/donateonline. Third is to bring gifts of food to friends, known as Mishloach Manot. And finally is to celebrate and feast, including drinking.

2/23/12 We are taught by the Torah: stay far away from lying. Rather than give an absolute, we are taught a value that honors integrity. In practical terms, this means we should tell the truth wherever there could be an injured party. Thus, honesty in legal proceedings, in other testimony or academic endeavors, is a Torah value. However, honesty isn’t a blunt instrument. White lies, for example, are a situation where compassion takes precedence over blunt honesty.

2/9/12 Remember the Shabbat is 4th of the 10 commandments. Traditionally, the act of remembrance is the Kiddush, the long blessing of the wine recited on Friday night. That act of blessing, which reminds us of creation and the exodus from Egypt, recalls the sacred importance of rest. We take this day to pause, to reflect, to remember who we really are in our deepest selves.

2/2/12 Kashrut is a key Jewish value that I hold dear. However, among its purposes is to create a sense of Jewish community. This is why Rabbi Lewis invited people to bake in their homes many years ago, and why I have extended the baking policy to potluck meals as well. Kashrut can be observed even if your kitchen isn’t kosher. Take a look at our kosher guidelines on kolemeth.org (download kashrut guidelines) or simply buy a kosher marked item from a local grocery store. Let’s explore ways in which we can take kashrut seriously and create space to build and sustain community.

1/26/12 Passover is a way of acting out the experience of being brought forth from Egypt.  Its celebration becomes an eternal annual practice as a means of engendering a shared experience, a sense of being a people, even thousands of years after the actual occurrence.  Reading it now in the Torah challenges us to begin thinking of ways in which our own celebration of Passover this year can connect us to the Jewish people and our shared love of God.

1/19/12 Obedience is an often overlooked mitzvah in the Conservative world. Yet God has us change slavery to Pharaoh for service to God. The word in Hebrew, avdut, is the same.   I am a limited person. I come from dust and I return to it. Avdut, service to God, is a means by which I, in humility, accept those limits. The servant of God observes Torah not only because it makes sense but as an act of accepting God’s authority. I invite you this week to pick a commandment and do it just to do it. Let yourself have the intention of serving God, regardless of your belief. You may be surprised by how liberating it can be.

1/12/12 We are commanded to recite the Shma when we rise and when we go to bed. This commandment becomes the basis for the morning and evening service. Here is a way to frame each day. Upon awakening, our first words determine much of how we view and experience the rest of the day. If we choose to make those words words of prayer, if we choose to embrace meaning at the beginning of our day, then we invite the day to be filled with meaning. I suggest the following ritual. Breathe for 1-2 full minutes. Recite the Shma itself, slowly and with intention. Express gratitude for something; ask for something. Breathe again for one more minute. Get up and find yourself living a day with renewed purpose.

12/15/11 The Torah tells us to stay far away from dishonesty. From this, the Rabbis understand the responsibility to tell the truth as competing with other values. White lies, for example, are appropriate because telling a harsh truth serves only to hurt someone. Joseph begins as a truth teller, but tells truths in such a way that they cause immense pain. Only later does he learn to balance truth with compassion. Stay far away from dishonesty, and hold compassion close to your heart.

12/8/11 More and more people are seeing the wisdom of shutting of their cell phones and computers over Shabbat. Here’s a related practice- Stay Local. Shabbat discourages large journeys, realizing that staying in our own place creates a restful, healing day that includes an introspective component. This Shabbat, I invite you to stay local – avoid large outings, stay close to home, family, and Synagogue. Combined with turning off electronic media, it can create a truly restful and restorative day.

12/1/11 According to the Rabbis, the evening prayer was instituted by Jacob. He encountered a place alone, and there opened his heart before God. Prayer became envisioned as something fixed yet with a spontaneous quality. We must create fixed times for prayer- without intentionality few commitments are realized – and also allow ourselves to encounter something real in such moments of prayer.

11/17/11 Writing and erasing are forbidden on Shabbat. We understand even temporary writing to have a creativity about it that violates the notion of Shabbat as a day to be rather than to do. As a result, electronic media, including cell phones, that produce even temporary writing are forbidden on Shabbat.

11/3/11 Abraham is famous for the mitzvah, the commandment, of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests.  The mitzvah can mean being gentle and welcoming to a newcomer at work, shul, or school.  It can mean offering people a meal.  Part of my practice includes accompanying my guests as they leave,walking them to the edge of my driveway, so that welcoming guests means being present with them. There are many ways of observing this founding mitzvah of Judaism.

10/27/11 Anything in Jewish liturgical practice that has an associated obligation must be recited by someone with the same level of obligation. Thus, Kiddush on Friday night ought to be recited by people over the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah so that others hearing can be released from their Biblical obligation to “Remember the Sabbath Day and make it holy.” Similarly, an Aliyah at the Torah must be recited by a Jew over the age of bar or bat Mitzvah as we are commanded to hear God’s voice in the Torah. By contrast, there is no ritual obligation associated with opening the Ark. As a result, a non-Jew can open or close the Ark during the Torah service.

10/18/11 Our Sukkot, these temporary huts in which we dwell during the festival, have an ephemeral quality to them. We are supposed to have 14 meals in the Sukkah over the 7 days of Sukkot, and it is a great mitzvah to invite guests to our Sukkah during those meals. Sukkot is rapidly ending, but the mitzvah of hospitality remains a central Jewish and human value. When we welcome someone even into a temporary part of our house, we are inviting God’s presence into our midst.

10/11/11 During Sukkot the Bible commands us to dwell in temporary structures call Sukkot. Building a Sukkah is quite easy. A Sukkah needs 2½ walls and a roof made of organic material that has more shade than sun and is open enough to see the stars at night. House or other permanent walls can be used. The easiest Sukkah is from PVC piping used to make a frame to which canvas walls are attached. Such a Sukkah can be put together almost like legos. Cross beams are laid across, and then tree cuttings or bamboo mats can be laid on top. Particularly for those with creative talent, feel free to use these minimum requirements in creative ways. You can see Succah.com for a selection of prefab Sukkot.

10/4/11 The Bible commands us five times to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur. From this, the Rabbis derive five specific behaviors for Yom Kippur. First, we refrain from eating or drinking for the full 25 hours of Yom Kippur. Second, we refrain from anointing ourselves with makeup or aftershave. Third, we refrain from wearing any leather. Fourth, we do not bathe. And fifth, we refrain from sexual intercourse. The latter four behaviors recall mourning practices as well, giving Yom Kippur a sense of immediacy, as we almost play act our own deaths to remind ourselves that our time on earth is limited, and each day a precious gift.

9/22/11 Ashkenazi Jews have for centuries begun reciting prayers of penitence as the Holidays draw near. We recite the prayers at midnight, at the time of transition, the darkest hour of the night. At a time of greater vulnerability, we begin asking God for forgiveness. These Selichot prayers mark the first intense step towards the self-analysis and growth that the Holy Days invite. KE will have Selichot services Saturday evening, preceded by learning. If you cannot come or live elsewhere, set your alarm for midnight. Then get up and invite God’s forgiveness in your life.

9/15/11 Shofar Sounding: During Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, there is a practice of sounding the Shofar each morning. The practice is to sound a full series of blasts – tikyah, shvarim, teruah, tekiah- without calling the blasts. The notion is to startle us, to knock us out of our complacency, and begin the process of change that leads to the High Holidays. If you haven’t had a chance to hear the Shofar yet this Elul, feel most invited to our morning minyan on Sunday at 9am or Thursday at 6:45am.

9/8/11 Returning lost objects is a hallmark of Torah morality. When we encounter a lost item, that encounter creates a responsibility. Suddenly, relationship is thrust upon us. An opportunity of caring is created. That simple act of caring is a commandment because it builds trust, it transforms enemies into friends. The next time you see a lost item, make an effort to find the owner and return it. It is a great act of caring.

9/1/11 Torah asks us to refrain from imitating the practice of those around us. Rashi instructs us to stay away from those practices that are immoral or damaging. This week, I invite you to contemplate your own work or communal environment. Look at it as if from the outside. What practice or practices strike you as wrong, immoral, destructive? Perhaps there is a culture of petty theft, or of gossip. This week, stay away from imitating such practice and embody the command of Torah to be a holy person.

8/25/11 Kashrut is all about humility and limiting our own desires. Kosher slaughter, mentioned in this week’s parashah, requires an awareness and pause as a life is taken for human benefit. Kosher slaughter argues against large scale industrial meat processing (though such does happen in the Kosher system) and suggests instead being closer to the food. Kosher meat is more expensive, but worth it for the sense of dedicating ourselves to God even as we eat.

8/19/11 We are commanded to concern ourselves with the stranger 48 times in the Torah. The Mekhilta notices that only idolatry is mentioned as often. Welcoming the stranger is a key element of Jewish ethical behavior. This week I invite you to take extra care of opportunities to show welcome to the stranger. Perhaps you will see someone on the street looking lost and you can point them in the right direction. Perhaps there will be someone at Kiddush that you welcome and so give a sense of belonging. Perhaps you will return a lost object or deal fairly with someone who would otherwise be so easy to abuse. In each of these acts is the mitzvah of caring for the Stranger, for God loves the stranger.

Torah Commentary by Rabbi David Booth