To help us all stay connected to our community and to Judaism during this challenging time, our clergy will be posting a daily blog, entitled “Spiritual Nuggets,” with a short teaching, quote, and/or question for contemplation.  We invite you to make this your daily spiritual practice.

Please remember that many members of Temple Israel are isolated, lonely, and in need right now. If you need assistance in any way or if you would like to be of help to our members in need, please contact our clergy or Membership Engagement Coordinator Mindi Marburg, marmstrong@templeisraelomaha.com.

 

Friday, April 3
with Rabbi Stoller

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam pokeiach ivrim. 

Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who opens the eyes of the blind. 

-From the Blessings for Daily Miracles 

What does it mean to be blind? On the literal level, of course, it means that one’s eyes lack functionality. But on a metaphorical level, we may be blind even when our eyes are working perfectly. For example, we talk about having a “blind spot” – meaning there are certain things we 

just can’t see even when they are painfully obvious to everyone else. The Torah warns us, “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind,” meaning: do not exploit someone’s vulnerability or weakness for your own gain. We are all blind to certain things about the world, about other people, and about ourselves. Maybe it’s because we’re naïve. Maybe it’s because we’re willfully blind and we don’t want to see those things. Maybe we are too settled in our existence that we don’t even have the capacity to see beyond our own circumstances. “ 

The rabbis’ choice of words in composing this second blessing for our daily miracles is poetic. The phrase “opens the eyes of the blind” hearkens back to the story in Genesis when Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit and “their eyes were opened.” Their eyes had always been working fine; what happened when they ate the fruit is that they gained awareness of themselves and their surroundings to which they were previously oblivious. This awareness changed their lives and changed the course of human history. Like them, all of us are blind to something. Each morning, we ask God for help in opening our eyes – in helping us become more aware of the realities of who we are and the world in which we live. 

What, would you say, are your “blind spots”? How might you be able to overcome them? 

 


 

Thursday, April 2
with Cantor Alexander

Heal Us Now:

Cantor Leon Sher wrote these beautiful words of healing:

We pray for healing of the Body, We pray for healing of the Soul, for strength of flesh and mind and spirit, we pray to once again be whole…

We pray for healing of our people, we pray for healing of the land, and peace for every race and nation, every child, every woman, every man.

I cannot imagine a time more appropriate than this moment, when it is not a pocket of war or a pocket of suffering that I, in my comfortable house can ignore. But truly a global cry going into the unknown void asking, begging and praying for a time to true and compete healing. Whether you are sick of body or sick of heart. Sick to think of the balance between economy and human life, or sick because your economy is endangering your life. In this time of the unknowable, I will ground myself with prayer. A prayer for myself and my loved ones, my community and my world. Dear God Please Heal, Hear Us Now.



Tuesday, March 31
with Rabbi Stoller

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam asher natan la-sechvi vinah l’havchin bein yom u-vein lailah. 

Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who gave the rooster the ability to distinguish between day and night. 

-From the Blessings for Daily Miracles 

Today we look at the first blessing in the section of our morning prayers called Nissim B’chol Yom – Blessings for Daily Miracles. Though it may seem odd to thank God for what a rooster can do, this blessing has a lot to do with us – how we organize our patterns of living and think about time. It’s especially relevant right now, as so many of us are doing our jobs from home. In this mode of living, it can be challenging to set boundaries – for example: boundaries between home space and work space, boundaries between work time and family time, boundaries between being on and being off. Jewish tradition teaches that there are natural boundaries in time – boundaries set not by the human clock but by the cosmic clock, God’s clock. Time has a natural and orderly flow that’s inherent in Creation itself, and all of nature understands and abides by it. Trees blossom, flowers bloom, winter gives way to spring, and the sun rises and sets according to the cosmic clock, not the human one. Even the rooster understands that there is a natural boundary between day and night, that there is a time to sleep and a time to wake up, a time to work and a time to rest. Unfortunately, we humans, even when we’re not isolated at home, ignore these boundaries; indeed, we do everything we can not only to transgress them, but to obliterate them. 

The home-quarantine we’re all living under now offers an opportunity to reset spiritually. We have the chance now to break from our unhealthy living patterns. Saying this blessing each morning is an invitation for us to rediscover what the rooster already knows intuitively: that God created boundaries in time – not to oppress us or make life difficult, but as a precious gift to make life easier and less stressful. 

I wonder: is it possible for us to reclaim these boundaries in time and live within them? How can you use this time at home to establish healthier patterns of living? 

 



Monday, March 30
with Cantor Alexander

It’s Monday lets move our bodies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah032sY7U4U 

There are so many things that are hard about our current time: living in fear, living with the unknown, not being able to do our usual things, not being able to see people as we normally do. And sometimes the very best thing you can do: burn off some energy and turn your mind away from the insanity is to just have a full-on out loud dance party! It’s Monday, the kids are home, lets gather around for a little “P.E.” Or if you don’t have kids at home pull out your inner child and tune into this amazing song. The Hebrew word gufi means my body, you can learn some Hebrew, dance like no ones watching (oh right 

they aren’t) and get your stuck inside, tired of the couch, tv or desk, homeschooling with no training, working like a dog, just lost your job and worried about the future body into motion. Sometimes it’s the best spiritual remedy. 

 



Friday, March 27
with Cantor Alexander

Sanctuary: https://youtu.be/2W_XxCh2b30 

Just a few weeks ago we read in Torah “make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among THEM.” What does it mean to not gather, to create sanctuary from nothingness? Yet God does not dwell IN the sanctuary God dwells AMONG them, the people. Even as we cannot be physically together, we prepare ourselves for sanctity and sanctuary. We prepare ourselves, mind body and spirit to put into the world love and care of others, shake off the stress and frustration that life isn’t working as we expected, and breath into our world a moment of sanctuary, and moment a peace and a piece of God. Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true; and with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you. 

 



Thursday, March 26
with Rabbi Stoller

“Speak of them when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7) 

My spiritual nugget today is the bedtime prayer I say with my children every night. My grandmother used to say some version of the first part with my mom when she was a child. My mom added her own words to it and said it with my brother and me when we were growing up. I added more when I got a little older and started saying the prayer by myself. And when I became a dad, I added more to say with my own kids. This is the way of Jewish prayer. The longings of each generation build upon each other and rise ever higher toward the heavens. 

Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai echad 

Baruch Shem k’vod malkhuto l’olam va-ed 

Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One. 

Dear God, thank you for all our beautiful blessings. Thank you for our food, our clothing, our house, our family who loves me, and for us all being together safe, healthy, and well. Dear God, please help me to help myself to be a good, sweet, kind, loving, respectful, and grateful little girl/boy. God please bless our precious family. Amen. 

V’ahavta et Adonai eloheikha… 

You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might, because God loves you very, very, very much. God created you, and blessed you, and made your life holy and special. 

No matter where you go, no matter what you do, mommy and daddy will always love you, and we will always be there for you, and we will always stand by you. Because you are our precious, precious little girl/boy. Thank you for being our daughter/son. 

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam ha-mapeel chevlay shaynai al aynai ut’numah al afapai. 

Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the universe. You make the sleep fall into my eyes, and the slumber into my eyelids. 

 



Tuesday, March 24
with Cantor Alexander

Adonai Love Me  https://youtu.be/IWo6FfJ9YE4 

It’s so simple and so powerful. God Love me, in times of anxiety and stress what more can we ask but to feel loved by an unending love. To reach for healing in a world absorbed with fear. To seek guidance from the true source of guidance and strength from the source of life. Adonai love me, Adonai guide me, Adonai heal me, how comforted I would feel to find all that right now, right here. 

 



Monday, March 23
with Rabbi Stoller

“On hearing news that is good for you and for others, say the blessing “Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam ha-tov v’ha-mayteev – Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who is good and does good. And you should say this blessing even if you are concerned that perhaps something bad may later come of it.” (Tur, Orach Chayim 222)  

The world today is in such flux. The world, it seems, changes almost from one minute to the next. There is so much fear and anxiety, so much in the news that is scary and unsettling. And yet, amidst it all are bits of good news, too. A friend who was exposed to the virus tests negative. Public officials act responsibly to help curb the spread. Researchers make some progress expanding access to testing. Judaism teaches us that expressing gratitude in the moment is a powerful spiritual practice. Even if there is reason to doubt that it will last or chances are that more bad news is still to come, our tradition teaches us to say “thank you” to God anyway. It’s about being present in the moment. It’s about recognizing that every little bit of good news you hear is a blessing, a moment to celebrate – and one not to take for granted. Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam ha-tov v’ha-mayteev – Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who is good and does good. 

 



Friday, March 20
with Rabbi Stoller

I am a member of the CCAR Responsa Committee, which answers questions from Reform rabbis and communities about matters of Jewish practice. Our committee just published this t’shuvah (response) to a question about the practice of using technology to create virtual minyanim during this time of crisis. I invite you to read it and share your thoughts in the comments section. And please join us tonight for a virtual Shabbat service with Cantor Alexander and me at 6 p.m. or a virtual Tot Shabbat service with Rabbi Berezin and Ben Mazur at 5:45 p.m. Shabbat Shalom!
5780.2
Virtual Minyan in Time of COVID-19 Emergency
 
Question:
May we rely on technology to create a virtual minyan in a time of crisis when we cannot gather in our synagogues? If so, what are the criteria for constituting a valid virtual minyan? How does one recite Kaddish in a virtual minyan? At what point do we know it is appropriate to discontinue the virtual minyan and return to a physical minyan? (submitted by numerous CCAR members)
 
Answer:
Although we have a recent decision that rejects the virtual minyan, we are now in an emergency situation. In an emergency situation a bet din is responsible for taking action for the welfare of the community, and may issue a temporary ruling (hora’at sha’ah) to prevent the kahal from going astray. People will certainly “go astray” by turning to all sorts of sources of comfort if we do not ensure that the kehillah kedosha, the holy community, can continue to function.
 
The minyan and participation “outside” the minyan: The essence of the minyan is the reciprocity of the social contract – the shared obligation that binds all ten individuals to one another, transforming them from a number of individuals into a community, a virtual bet Yisrael. The halakha translated that conceptual essence into a physical one by mapping it onto a space, requiring the members of a minyan to be in one room together. The majority view in the halakha is that the individuals who constitute the minyan must be in one room, though some authorities hold that it is sufficient for them to be able to see each other, thus including, e.g., the individual who is visible through the window of the synagogue.
 
Now, however, we are in a situation where people may not gather in one room. Therefore, for the duration of this emergency, we permit the convening of a minyan by means of interactive technology, i.e., technology that enables all members of the minyan to see and hear each other. Two widely used examples of this type of technology are Zoom (available as a smartphone app) and Microsoft Teams. In essence, therefore, we are requiring the use of Zoom or Teams – or any app with the same capabilities that may appear on the market now – to constitute a virtual minyan. (As always, and especially in this time of economic distress, we presume our congregations and all of our people will adhere to all intellectual property and copyright laws as they obtain software.)
 
As long as there are ten people connected in an interactive manner, any number of additional people may also be “present” passively, via live streaming. In accordance with the precedent of 5772.1, we do not count these individuals in the minyan. In our current context, the obstacle to counting the livestream viewer in the minyan is that s/he cannot be seen or heard, and therefore cannot be an equal participant in the minyan’s underlying social contract. Additionally, there is no way for the service leader to know how many people, if any, are watching a live stream, and therefore no way of knowing whether a minyan is “present” in the absence of ten interconnected members.
 
We affirm that one who is viewing a livestream should still respond to all the prayers; this is considered the same as having recited them. The same is true for the livestream viewer who recites the words of the Mourners’ Kaddish along with the service leader.
 
The CCAR plenum has never taken a stand on whether a minyan is required for public prayer, but its importance has been a given for most Reform rabbis and their congregations. In a 1936 responsum, Jacob Mann advised that “every attempt should be made to have a full minyan,” but allowed congregations to rely on the Palestinian custom of fixing a minyan at six or seven.” Many small congregations rely on this responsum. Some congregations of varying sizes disregard the minyan completely. We are not saying now that every Reform congregation must adhere to the requirement of a minyan of ten, but we encourage it, even in small congregations, as a way of bringing the community together.
 
Torah reading: All parts of the service can be conducted in a virtual minyan with the obvious exception of actually reading from the Torah scroll. As a further hora’at sha’ah, it is sufficient to read from a printed text without any aliyot. However, this is still a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Torah study and requires a b’rakhah (although all authorities agree that if one has earlier said la’asok be-divrei Torah, this requirement is merely for the honor of the community). Under these present circumstances, we suggest reverting to the practice set forth in the Mishnah: The first reader recites the blessing before the reading, and the last reader recites the blessing after the reading. An alternative practice, for those who do not want to use the Torah blessings for anything other than reading from the scroll, is to recite la’asok b’divrei Torah before reading from the printed text. Either way, we also strongly encourage including serious Torah study in addition to the reading.
 
The duration of these temporary procedures: Finally, at some point in the future, we know that this health crisis will end. When the authorities stop restricting attendance at public functions, this hora’at sha’ah should be set aside. People should return to the synagogue and the practice of interactive virtual minyanim should cease. We realize that some people may be fearful, but we rely on experts in these matters. “As rabbis, we are not competent to render judgments in scientific controversies. Still, we do not hesitate to adopt ‘the overwhelming view’ as our standard of guidance in this and all other issues where science is the determining factor.” Nevertheless, individuals in the most vulnerable populations (especially the elderly with pre-existing medical conditions) may benefit from live streaming. In these circumstances, the precedent of our earlier responsum, 5772.1, offers sufficient guidance.
 
Joan S. Friedman, chair
Howard L. Apothaker
Daniel Bogard
Carey Brown
Lawrence A. Englander
Lisa Grushcow
Audrey R. Korotkin
Rachel S. Mikva
Amy Scheinerman
Brian Stoller
David Z. Vaisberg
Jeremy Weisblatt
Dvora E. Weisberg

 



Thursday, March 19
with Rabbi Berezin

“Everything depends on the person who stands in front of the classroom. The teacher is not an automatic fountain from which intellectual beverages may be obtained. The teacher is either a witness or a stranger. To guide a pupil into the promised land, the teacher must have been there themselves. When asking themselves: Do I stand for what I teach? Do I believe what I say?, the teacher must be able to answer in the affirmative. What we need more than anything else is not textbooks, but textpeople. It is the personality of the teacher which is the text that the pupils read: the text that they will never forget. [Edited for gender neutrality]”

-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology

Rabbi Heschel helps us to understand that teaching is about more than books and worksheets. When we teach from our experiences and areas of passion, we are the very best teachers. In this time when many of us find ourselves not only working differently than we are used to, but also serving as teachers for our children as they learn remotely, lets try to remember that the textbooks are not the most important pieces of education. Our children learn from us each and every day, and today is no different. We don’t all need to be experts in math or English lit. When we make lunches, we teach healthy and intentional eating. When we reach out to others we teach caring and compassion. We teach simply by being ourselves. And perhaps we teach the most when we model that it is ok to say “I don’t know the answer, but lets find one together.”


Wednesday, March 18

with Rabbi Stoller

“Adonai spoke to Moses and Aaron saying: When a person has…a scaly affection on the skin of his body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest…It is a leprous affection; when the priest sees it, he shall pronounce him unclean….The priest shall isolate the affected person seven days.” (Leviticus 13) 

Like a number of our congregants, I am under quarantine in my home due to direct exposure to the coronavirus. During this time, I have come to understand this passage in Leviticus in a very poignant way. In some sense, I have become a leper. My wife, concerned about me exposing my family, has confined me to my bedroom – and my kids, knowing of my exposure, shout “you’re quarantined!” any time I dare to venture out of my isolation chamber (aka my bedroom). Anytime I reach for a door or a glass of water, I’m met with shouts of “don’t touch!” And not only that. People don’t want to be around my family either because they’re concerned about being exposed to someone who has been exposed to someone who has been exposed to the virus. All of this is very understandable; I would feel the same way if the shoe were on the other foot. But here’s what my experience has taught me: it’s really lonely to be the leper. Even when people’s intentions are good, you feel self-conscious, isolated, and weird.  

It’s important for us to be mindful that the coronavirus has made many people among us into lepers. Our distancing from them may be well-intentioned, it may be smart, and it may be necessary. But that doesn’t change the fact that to be a leper is to be in a difficult and painful spiritual condition. So what can we as a community – and what can you as an individual – do to support our friends and fellow congregants like me who have effectively become modern-day lepers? Even as we keep our necessary physical distance, how can we draw them close emotionally and spiritually? 

 



Tuesday, March 17
with Cantor Alexander

Olam Chesed Yiboneh https://youtu.be/ZHp-jcPlKIY 

I will build this world from love. 

How do we build a world from love when being with those we live might endanger them? Yet how do we do anything but build a world from love when all of life has turned inside out? If we allow ourselves to live only in the fear and only for our own personal safety and comfort our world is all but destroyed. Even as we sit locked behind our doors we must push out of ourselves and reach for those trapped behind other walls. Pick up a phone and make a call, send over a grub hub or delivery, just to show you care. Find a way to connect to people you didn’t even really know before. Because we’re all in this together. Olam CHESSED yibone. Together you, me and God, we will build a world exuding love. 

 



Monday, March 16
with Rabbi Berezin

“Our Rabbis taught, A father has the following obligations towards his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him [if he is a firstborn], to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a craft or a trade. Some say, to teach him to swim too.” (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 29a). The text points out the obligations a parent has toward a child, but interestingly, basic necessities and care such as food or shelter are not included. Instead, we find religious, spiritual, and emotional support in the forms of the ritual of circumcision, teaching Torah, and helping a child to find his/her partner. The requirements conclude with teaching chidlren to swim, representing the need to teach our children the tools of survival and the ability to make their way in the world. Today, as we navigate the realities of social distancing and virtual connections, how can we teach our children, and one another, to swim in this new world?

 



Sunday, March 15
with Rabbi Stoller

Hillel taught: “Do not separate yourself from the community.” This axiom is particularly poignant at this particular moment in time. Due to our forced physical separation from our colleagues, our temple, and from people we care about, we and others can easily become isolated, lonely, and sad. What concrete steps can you take to stay connected to the various communities you’re part of and to help people who are feeling isolated?