Torah and Haftarot

On Klei Kodesh & Blinds Spots: Lessons from Korach

In the ALEPH Ordination program, we require each student to have a mashpi’a, a spiritual guide. This is a practice we learned from the Chabad Chasidim, conveyed to us by Reb Zalman z”l. We believe that every kli kodesh, every person who wants to be a sacred vessel or a vessel for the sacred, needs to have two things. The first is the ability to question oneself, to be open to personal flaws and able to acknowledge one’s shortcomings. The second is that every kli kodesh needs a trusted friend to help in this process.

Why is it necessary to have such a friend? The answer is that each of us also has at least one blind spot, one place within where it is nearly impossible to go alone or even to see without help. In his teaching, “Yom Kippur Kattan and the Cycles of Teshuvah,” Reb Zalman put it this way:

There is an element that is called the blind spot… [Y]ou keep doing the same thing, but you do it in a different color, you do it in a different situation, and you see that in the gestalt of what it is that’s wrong, that gestalt hasn’t changed much. And then you puzzle and say what is the twist in my perception of reality that causes me to make that same mistake over and over and over again. Finding a blind spot is very hard.

Triennial Cycle of Haftarot Completed

Dear Friends,

Over three years ago, I shared a table containing a triennial cycle of haftarot to accompany the triennial cycle of Torah readings most of us use. I was concerned, for those of us who have a haftarah as part of our services, that we were reading prophetic sections on an annual cycle, which seemed to elevate these portions of Nach to a higher level than that of the Torah itself. Further, haftarot now shared a connection to the Torah portion only once every three years. Lastly, I also thought that if haftarot were shorter, then more of us might be inclined to include them, even if only occasionally.

Several of you let me know that it would be much easier to add a haftarah if the haftarot themselves were easier to access. I’m happy to say that I’ve now completed a file which contains all the proposed haftarot in full.

A Shabbat for God

On Shabbat Parashat B’har, Hanna and I co-led the annual retreat for B’nai Or of Boston. We knew that a mid-Omer pre-Shavuot theme would be the “mountain,” Sinai as starting place and Zion as destination. To begin our preparation, Hanna suggested I find a Hassidic text we could read together for inspiration and, on a hunch, I chose to look in the Netivot Shalom of the Slonimer Rebbe.

In the Yeshivah world, the study of Parashat B’har begins with Rashi’s famous question, מה ענין שמיטה אצל הר סיני, what is the connection between the sabbatical year and Mt. Sinai? For Rashi and then for the Ramban, this juxtaposition of sabbatical and revelation serves as the core text for their different expressions of the content of the Sinai revelation. Reb Noah, the Slonimer, asks a different version of the question. He wants to understand the connection between the sabbatical year and the weekly Shabbat. Further, he also wants to understand why, in both cases, the texts begin with the logical conclusion rather than with the definition of terms. In other words, Shabbat in the decalogue begins with “Remember the Shabbat day to keep it holy” and then goes on to say that we should work for six days and rest on the seventh. In B’har, the Torah first says to observe a sabbatical year after arrival in the land and then says that we should work the land for six years and allow it to rest on the seventh.

Yom K’Purim

Dear Friends,

For this last post of the old year, I’m attaching Hanna Tiferet’s translation of the Yom Kippur Torah reading as a rap. I’m not sure if it will remain in the upcoming revision of Machzor Kol Koreh which I hope to undertake sometime in the next few months, so with her permission I’m sharing it with you now as a pdf document.

On a more serious note, Hanna and I completed a version of Machzor Kol Koreh for B’nai Or of Boston. I took many of the changes and improvements we made and transferred them to the master template for Machzor Kol Koreh.

Some years ago, I organized our tashlich experience around making a commitment to change an aspect of behaviour to be more conscious of energy use and carbon footprint. This year, after learning how much plastic is not only floating in the ocean in the big collections but has broken into such small pieces that it’s embedding itself in the cells of marine life, I’m undertaking to reduce my plastic consumption by buying glass containers when they are available. I’m also notifying companies that make a good product but package it in plastic that I will no longer buy that product if there is an alternative which is not plastic (Annie’s horseradish mustard, my favourite, was my first).

So, best wishes to all of you for a good and sweet year. I pray that this will be the year when our recognition of climate change turns into significant action. May we experience the changes we will be making in how we organize our priorities and values as exciting. Our Judaism has so much to offer this process and you all are crucial in communicating this to others. So may all your work be blessed with clear communication and harmony between words and actions.


Torah Rap•HT

Triennial Cycle of Weekday Torah Readings

Dear Friends,

In the summer of 2011, I taught a course called Synagogue Customs and Practices. At one point, we were learning the three basic principles for dividing a Torah reading into aliyot. I realized that, while most liberal congregations in North America were reading Torah on a triennial cycle, weekday readings were still organized only on the annual cycle. I suggested that as a practical application of what we were learning, we divide up the year’s readings and design a triennial cycle of weekday readings to match the Shabbat cycle.

I am pleased to offer you the product of that joint effort. Much of the good work you will see here was done by the students. Any errors or places you might disagree are my own doing, since I made the final decisions.

I would like to thank the following people for participating in this project: David Abramowitz, Binah Block, Kellie Scheer, Beth Cohen, Jessica Shimberg, Elana Jagoda, Annie Gilbert, Heena Reiter, Dara Lithwick, Michael Rosenblum, Eva Sax-Bolder, Shifrah Tobacman.

To view and download this triennial cycle for free, please visit the ALEPH ReSources Catalogue elsewhere on this site.