Monday, November 29, 2021

Seeing Lessons: A Chanukah Contemplation


Seeing Lessons

We have all heard of music lessons and driving lessons. But seeing lessons? Seeing is something that a healthy person is born with the capacity to do automatically, why would one need lessons? 

It is just that - learning to see- that one of the primary observances of Chanukah asks us to do. In the Neirot Halalu –the piece of liturgy said immediately after the lighting of the Chanukah lights we say “And we have no right to make practical use of them (the lights), they are only to be looked at” 

This is actually quite curious, in as much as the other types of lights we are asked to kindle as a Judaic precept- The Shabbat and Holiday lights are specifically designed to be used for illumination. With Chanukah, we are asked to do nothing with the lights except to look at them.  

Every Jewish holiday carries a lesson that has the capacity –if absorbed- to enhance our lives throughout the entire year. A key component of Chanukah is to use the lights of the Chanukiah as a tool for teaching us to see in a  new way. 

If we look at a Chanukah lamp or candle, we will see that it has three mandatory components (an electric light or a burning pool of flammable liquid do not at all fulfill the obligation of performing the precept of the Chanukah lights): 

  • A wick
  • Fuel, e.g. oil or wax
  • The flame carried by the wick and fed by the oil.

To have a clear lasting flame all three components are necessary. A wick ignited is soon extinguished in a powerful but uncontrolled and smoky blaze to oblivion. Oil or wax without a wick will not burn in an illuminating manner and is very hard to ignite, as it is a cold and inert substance under normal conditions. Without the flame, there is no chance of light. 

During the entire historical period leading up to the events commemorated in Chanukah. The great challenge of the Hellenists to the Jews committed to their beliefs was: Why do you insist on proclaiming the supreme purpose of doing Mitzvot (precepts) with certain objects and certain places in certain times?  Symbolism is fine, but do you really think that there is intrinsic value in these practices? Can you not have great spiritual experiences without all these physical details?  Philosophize, meditate, but why the Tefillin (phylacteries)?  Why the Shabbat?  Why the Brit?  Be in a spiritual mode or be in a  physical  mode but who are you kidding by straddling the fence and pretending that cold, inert physical activity has intrinsic spiritual value?

The Judaic response is that the soul and body are indeed dichotomous and struggle with each other. The body desires the transient and tangible, the soul desires the eternal and ethereal. When the upwardly striving flame of the soul meets the inert coldness of the wick of the body they struggle and smoke. Either the body wins and the flame gutters out, or the soul wins and consumes the body, leaving only formless soot behind. The Western Traditions of asceticism and hedonism are two sides of this same Hellenic coin. In the dichotomous model, one side can only assert itself at the expense of the other.  

Judaism offers another model –the lamp. The flame does not consume the wick; it is the source of a clear and lasting light. The oil mediates between the wick and the flame slowly being consumed whilst the flame and wick maintain their integrity at peace with each other.  The oil is the Mitzvot -the precepts of Judaism. These are the concrete objects and experiences within which G-d asks us to find Him. The physical also flows from G-d’s essence. The challenge of the physical is finding the G-dliness in it, as the physical by its nature conceals the life force constantly giving it existence. This is in contrast to the spiritual which does reveal the creative energy within -that is, indeed the very definition of spirituality.  

However when we surrender ourselves to G-d and say, “show us where you are in the physical world” we are guided to the Mitzvot –the physical actions G-d creates as doorways to the Infinite within our finite world. 

When our body (the wick) is immersed in this “oil” and the flame of the soul is applied to our body's action expresses the G-dly and the body is illuminated and at peace with the light of the soul. We see that there is no Dichotomy in life, only possible harmonies. Since “Hashem your G-d is Truth”, Truth is that which is always the same under all circumstances. If G-d is less present or available in the physical realm then that is not Truth. How is G-d available in the physical? By the practice of the Mitzvot which all involve the physical in some way.

These are the seeing lessons the Chanukah lights teach us. Never see the physical as a contradiction to the G-dly but as a necessary ingredient to an illumined and just world. G-d is only real to us when present everywhere under all circumstances. We learn to never see the physical as the enemy or the spiritual as impossible to attain. See them as the ingredients of a lamp that just need to be drawn together in harmony  to shine. 

Truly see the lights of Chanukah, and nothing will ever look the same


Thursday, October 28, 2021

Important announcements!



      This notice is to inform our members that COVID is currently  widely circulating within local Jewish institutions.   Also, there are both children and some adults in the community who are still unvaccinated and lacking immunity.
       Fortunately, to our knowledge, no case has been documented resulting from a transmission at Bnai Torah.
      However, given the attendance/affiliation  of many  members and their  household family  members  at multiple local Jewish institutions,  we are  reminding you of the following provisions of the shul COVID policy:
  • No one should enter the shul building who has any of the possible symptoms of COVID.
  • No one should enter the shul building who has a household  family member who has tested positive until cleared by the public health department of his City or Town
Also, out of an abundance of caution, if you or a household family member have had an exposure to a documented COVID case and  been directed to get a COVID test, you should refrain from entering the building until your or their  COVID  status has been determined.
The safety of our members is of utmost importance and we need to continue our vigilance in enforcing protective measures.

Shabbat Shalom!

New Zoom Link for all classes - Click Here

All services will be in the large sanctuary!

In order to keep all members and guests safe at B'nai Torah, all participants at any function in the shul, services, meals (except when eating)  MUST wear a face mask over both their nose and mouth. These requirements are mandated by the City of Springfield. 
Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, August 13, 2021

New COVID policy @ CBT effective immediately

 In an abundance of caution, given the substantial transmission rates in Hampden County, the high prevalence of vaccinated members with increased Covid risk, and presence of children under 12 years of age who have not been immunized, Congregation B’nai Torah has issued the following Shul COVID-19 Policy revisions effective Shabbat 8/13 -14 onwards:

Masks may be removed only for eating (e.g. kiddushes, events) and must be refastened after one has completed eating.

Hazzan, Baal Tefillah,  Baal Torah, or shofar blower  if he is  vaccinated and socially distanced from other individuals on the bima, ,may remove his mask on the Bimah while he is facing the Ark.           
   The Rabbi or other speakers may face the congregation and be unmasked while delivering remarks while standing as far away from the front of the congregation on the Bimah  as possible.

Other Protective Measures for Food Service Events:
Masks shall be worn in buffet lines and when seated at tables at all times except when food is  actually being consumed.
To avoid close contact in a  buffet line, no more than about 8 individuals (e.g. family group, table grouping) should be at buffet tables at one time.  For example, at a larger gathering, attendees should be seated and be directed to approach the buffet one table at a time.  

Friday, July 9, 2021

Schedule for Services and Torah Study: Shabbat and Coming Week


This week as Shabbat ends we begin the intense period of national reflection we know as the "Nine Days". For more information please click here. Join us this Shabbat as we mark Rosh Chodesh -the new month which carries in it the hope of healing and renewal. This week's talk is about the work of this important period and is titled "The road from Sad to Glad does not pass through Mad"

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!

NEW ! Zoom link for all services and classes:
By Phone: 646 558 8656 Meeting ID: 817 7565 6038 Passcode: 248365


Shabbat Schedule:

Friday  7/9

Mincha / Kabbalat Shabbat: 7PM Remember all Rosh Chodesh Insertions

Candlelighting: 8:08 PM

Shabbat Day /Rosh Chodesh  7/10

Shacharit: 9AM

Please recite the three paragraphs of the Shema before arriving in Synagogue so as to conform to the latest Biblically mandated time for the reading of the Shema which is 9:04AM

Mincha/ Torah Study/ Maariv: 8 - 9:20 PM

Havdalah/ Shabbat Ends: 9:20 PM -all Nine Days rules in effect.
Schedule for Sunday 7/11

All Classes and Morning Services are on our Zoom link listed above, or click here 

Shacharit: 8AM

Class in Halachic Man via Zoom: 9:30AM

Mincha /Maariv  7PM

Schedule for Monday 7/12
All Classes and Morning Services are on our Zoom link listed above, or click here 

Morning Services- 7:00am

The Other Side of the Talmud: Aggadah 8:30-9AM

Quick Lunch n' Learn -1230-1245 PM

Special Program: Women Connect! Join our Rebbitzen, Chani Yaffe to explore "The Journey of a Nation"  - The Nine Days in Depth, 4:30PM at Bnai Torah - 2 Eunice Drive.

Mincha /Maariv 7:00 PM

New Day and Time: Parsha- in-Depth Text Study 7:50 -8:45 PM on Zoom

Schedule for Tuesday 7/13
All Classes and Morning Services are on our Zoom link listed above, or click here 

Morning Services 7AM

The Other Side of the Talmud: Aggadah 8:30-9AM

Chanie Yaffe's Yiddish Group 11:30AM - 12:25PM

Quick Lunch n' Learn -1230-1245 PM

Mincha /Maariv 7 PM

Schedule for Wednesday 7/14
Morning Services are on our Zoom link listed above, or click here 

Shacharit: 7AM

Mincha /Maariv 7 PM

Schedule for Thursday 7/15
All Classes and Morning Services are on our Zoom link listed above, or click here 

Shacharit: 7AM

The Other Side of the Talmud: Aggadah 8:30-9AM

Quick Lunch n' Learn -1230-1245 PM

Mincha /Maariv 7 PM

New! Let's Meet the Prophets:  A deep dive into a very misunderstood group of women and men 7:50 -8:45PM on Zoom

Schedule for Friday 7/16
All Classes and Morning Services are on our Zoom link listed above, or click here 

Shacharit: 7AM

The Other Side of the Talmud: Aggadah 8:30-9AM

Quick Lunch n' Learn -1230-1245 PM

Mincha /Kabbalat Shabbat 7 PM

Candle Lighting 8:05PM

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Schedule change for 7/5 (National Holiday). Note from Rabbi

Morning services  Tomorrow, Monday 7/5/
 8AM.  Due to National Holiday, no regular classes, but I am available for Torah study with any number of people anytime during the day - just contact me to arrange.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Mincha 7:45PM Today - Please note change!

 Reminder: Mincha for Fast / Maariv at Bnai Torah is 7:45PM Today  - Please note change! See you there אי"ה