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A Kabbalist’s Feast: New Edition of the Tu B’Shevat Seder

Years ago in the ancient city of Safed, a group of Kabbalists uncovered the mystical secrets of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish holiday referred to as the “New Year of the Tree.”

The secrets this group revealed were compiled in the 18th century into a ritual ceremony patterned after the Passover Seder and observed on the night of Tu B’shevat, the 15th of the month of Shevat, which coincides with the full moon.

The seder features four cups of wine, a ritual text, various fruits, cakes and other delicacies. In place of the story of the Exodus from Egypt the Tu B’Shevat seder uncovers the inner dimensions of reality as revealed in nature. In place of matzah and chicken soup with matzah balls, there are a dozen kinds of fruit. In place of Seder plates, there are plates piled high with fruits.

What you will need for your seder: Red wine, white wine, beer, cake, olives, dates, grapes, figs, pomegranates, walnuts, almonds, carob, apples, pears, and if you can, candied etrog rind. In addition, bring other fruits with inedible shells or peels, fruits with edible skins, but have seeds, fruits that are totally eaten, and fragrant fruits. Use as many different kinds of fruit as you can find, especially exotic fruit that you rarely eat.

How to make it happen: Gather a group of friends, and ask each to bring something for the feast. Se

t the table with a fine tablecloth, candles, flowers etc. Have a good time – there is really no “wrong” way to do the Seder. You can use my Seder guide as a roadmap and feel free to improvise, make additions, sing and dance!

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

Contact me if you have any difficulties with the download and we will email it to you!

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#JeSuisJuif

As we read this past Shabbat in synagogue from Parsha Shemot, God says to Moses, “I will be THAT I will be.” Rashi teaches that God wants Moshe to reassure the Jewish people that “I will be with you during this time of distress in Egypt and in future times of distress.” Moshe isn’t so happy with this. Why bother them with the news that there will be still other times of distress after this slavery!? “You’re right, says God, tell them…”

Moshe didn’t want us to hear the news then, and it is hard to hear the news now.

Our hearts grieve as one over the tragic deaths of our brothers and sisters, and a dozen others in Paris in the last two days.

You know what? God is also heartbroken. So heartbroken. Just as God promised to Moshe, God is with us in our distress now.

But we cannot afford to be silent, to sit in sorrow or fear in the darkness, because now is the time to turn on the light and bring blessing and goodness to the world.

Outpourings of kindness, mitzvoth, love for one another are needed. And prayer. Pray with all our hearts to God to protect our people around the world, in Israel, and bless us with peace.

God, you took us out of Egypt, to be your people. Don’t forsake us and don’t abandon us. Please comfort our mourners, and do not let their deaths be in vain.

#JeSuisJuif

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Countering This Darkness With Light: Responding to the Jerusalem Synagogue Massacre

I spent too long on Twitter trying to get CBC News to apologize over the “Jerusalem Police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack” headline on their website. Looking back, that time could have been spent much more productively by being a first and foremost a Jewish first responder.

We all have a responsibility to be vigilant about media blunder, bias, and sensationalizing. However, I am afraid that I became so preoccupied on how this horrific tragedy was portrayed in the media that I neglected the Jewish response. I got into this “Honest Reporting Sheriff” mentality and forgot what God wants now that I am faced with his unbearable tragedy.

While my first response at that moment was to mourn — I let is pass by quickly as my emotions turned to anger and frustration. I “got up in the face” of CBC and CNN and who knows else on Twitter. I called them out for what they are.

When I realized that this anger was taking me nowhere fast, I returned to mourning. I cried over the loss of precious life, and to screamed out to God in frustration. I organized prayers for the dead and for the injured at our synagogue, and reached out to comfort students at USC who were in mourning. I hugged my children tightly to calm their sorrow.

Having helped to stem the bleeding of from our hearts, I turn my time to help bring light to the world that was filled with darkness and chaos. It’s time to make the world a more blessed place and tie myself to efforts around the world that are seeking healing.

So I joined a worldwide psalm recitation website to increase the time I am committing to prayer. I organized a new weekly Talmud study partner (chevruta) and a new Torah learning event, Leil Shishi, at Pico Shul. I committed myself to helping someone who can’t pay their rent this month and a young couple that need help making a wedding. I have added psalms to be said at Shul every week for peace in Israel.

Next time tragedy strikes I will only be checking twitter to get updates on what’s happening. I am done being a “Media Watchdog.” I’ll leave that to others.

I am going to be busy organizing a Jewish response to tragedy helping to repair the tear in the heart of the Jewish people and countering the darkness with light.

We mourn the loss of Rabbi Moshe Twerskis, Rabbi Calman Levine, Rabbi Aryeh Kopinsky, and Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg Zayig Sayif.

And we pray for the complete and speedy recovery of Eitan ben Sarah, Shmuel Yeruchem ben Baila, Yitzchok ben Chaya, Chaim Yechiel ben Malka And those who need healing.

May God comfort the mourners and bring healing to those injured, and may we see the redemption soon, quickly, in our days. Amen.

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How are we Doing as a Planet This Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, has profound meaning for the entire world and humanity. Most people familiar with the holiday think of apples, honey, shofar, and as one of the two days that every Jew goes to synagogue.

We understand that Rosh Hashanah is about being a better person, reflecting on the past year, and refining our own personal spiritual goals and aspirations for the year to come. All of that is true and important. What we often fail to approach is the deep connection between Rosh Hashanah and the world around us. For every year on Rosh Hashanah we have the opportunity to reflect upon the state of our planet, our environment, and look at our past actions and set goals for the next year of Life on Earth.

The ancient sages teach that on Rosh Hashanah all of humanity is judged for its actions, and that includes how we treat our world. How did we act as citizens of the planet? How much did we factor into our actions the impact that we are having on the environment? And as one of the Hasidic masters taught, “where did we succeed and how can we get better?” One of the areas that I am especially sensitive to this year is energy. Much of the darkness in this world is related to energy; the competition for resources and the environmental, justice and geopolitical consequences of energy extraction and management. If we want to change the world, to help conquer that darkness, we just have to look up.

The sun.

We have failed as a society to harness the great potential of solar energy to help alleviate the world’s energy problems. The sun can offer healing to a planet that is desperate for ways to maintain progress without damaging the environment. Yet, with all the ingenuity in the world which manages to put into the palm of our hands a computer more powerful that the ones which brought us to the moon, the average household relies only on solar energy to power calculators.

Don’t look to rabbis to solve the world’s energy problems. However, in my discussions with people whose business is energy, and research of reliable studies, I have learned that investments in solar energy — and renewable energy sources in general — are far below what experts recommend. While solar to energy conversion rates are improving, meaning that we can harness more energy of the sun per solar panel, we are not directing significant capital into R&D to improve solar energy technology. Imagine if the folks that created the smartphone were given 5 billions dollars to work on solar energy.

It’s almost Rosh Hashanah. The time has come for us to make some serious decisions about the future of our relationship with the planet this coming year. If we are truly to be a light unto the nations, then we can light the way towards cleaner sources of energy.