Rachael’s Thoughts on Shabbat Shirah

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shirah – the Shabbat of Song, and it’s filled with beautiful moments.  We have come safely through the Red Sea, the Egyptian army has perished, we take our first breath as a free nation, and we burst into song.  It’s a beautiful expression of joy, having just experienced the desperation of standing between the enemy and the sea –cornered.  We could have chosen to blame God for pushing us to the brink of desperation before ultimately saving us, but instead we choose a song of joy.

The midrash focuses on why the verb for singing is mentioned in the future tense.  “Then Moses and Israel will sing (az yashir)”, it is more accurate to relate it in the past or present tense as something that is happening at that moment.  But we are told that the song we choose to sing in the beginning will be the song we choose to sing throughout.  When I start my day, am I choosing to have a good day?  It is a choice I make before anything else happens, and it is the approach I will bring to everyone and everything throughout my day.  

Ultimately, the Sages tell us that this song of joy, the individual song we all compose in our hearts, will be the song we sing when creation is fulfilled.  At that time, every person who ever lived will be granted a final breath, and will then choose how to use it.  The future tense “will sing” is telling us to choose a personal song of joy and gratitude and attach it to our identities.  It is the expression that will first present itself to us when our thoughts form into words.  It is the song we will always choose to sing.

Life brings challenges to us; it is the nature of the created world.  Responding to those challenges with the unique songs we hold inside is how we shape the moment, the day, and ultimately, the world around us.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Chag Samaech for Tu B’Shevat

Chag Sameach! 

In the ancient world we needed to know how old are the trees and the vegetation.  That way we would know when we’re allowed to harvest from nature for eating and sacrifices, and when we need to leave things alone.  In our modern world, we continue to celebrate this holiday and its perspective on knowing when we can take from nature, when we can share from nature, and when we need to take a step back and not intrude.  We plant trees and we garden on Tu B’Shvat, and in some communities there is a Tu B’Shvat Seder (festive meal) that includes eating from the 7 species of Israel while mixing white and red wines to create the colours of the earth.

Please feel free to click the link below for great insights into Tu B’Shevat as well as fun, meaningful ways you and your family can celebrate.

Dr. Rachael Turkienicz’s video on What is Tu B’Shevat?

Dr. Rachael Turkienicz’s video on Tu B’Shevat: Not the Jewish Arbor Day

Dr. Rachael Turkienicz’s video on The 7 Species of Tu B’Shevat

Dr. Rachael Turkienicz’s video on  A Little Insight on Tu B’Shevat for Rosh Chodesh Shevat

How to Celebrate Tu B’Shevat in the dead of winter

From Kveller.com

9 Ways to Celebrate Tu B’Shevat with kids

From pjlibrary.com

https://pjlibrary.org/beyond-books/pjblog/january-2013/ways-to-celebrate-tu-b-shevat

Tu B’Shevat – new year for the trees

From chabad.org

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/615205/jewish/Tu-BiShvat.htm

9 symbolic ways to celebrate Tu B’Shevat 

From jscreen.org

Tu B’Shevat coloring pages

From aish.com

https://www.aish.com/h/15sh/mm/52826512.html

Tu B’shevat crossword puzzle

From ourjewishcommunity.org

https://www.ourjewishcommunity.org/wp-content/pdfs/tu_b_shevat_crossword.pdf

Tu B’shevat word search

From ourjewishcommunity.org

https://www.ourjewishcommunity.org/wp-content/pdfs/tu_b_shevat_wordsearch.pdf

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Bo

This week, in parashat Bo, we read of the conclusion of the plagues, as Israel prepares to leave Egypt. The people are told to ask their neighbours for some of their wealth before leaving, and, in fact, the riches of Egypt are shared with the Israelites. On a practical level, this puts closure to any future claim of monies owed to us for forced labour, and Israel can truly disconnect from Egypt. But the question remains as to why an ancient Egyptian would want to share their wealth with a departing slave.
 
Immediately after instructing Israel to do this, the text says that God placed “the beauty of the nation into the eyes of Egypt.” This one phrase opens our understanding of how a people can enslave another people. The process of oppression includes steps of dehumanization. If I view another person as an equal human being, with a name, an identity, and human dignity, it becomes more difficult to hurt them or see them suffer. History has shown that to enslave, the oppressor must first believe their victim is less than human. We heard hints of this early in our text when the midwives told Pharaoh he was correct, the Israelite women are like animals.
           
It is not the beauty of the Israelites that God placed in the eyes of the Egyptians, it is the beauty of their humanity ­– Egypt was able to view the Israelites as people. The desire to resolve suffering and promote healing is a universal element of compassion that we all share.
           
In today’s world, we fall into the same trap when we group people together and reference them as ‘homeless,’ or even ‘immigrants,’ without thinking of them as people with names and specific identities. It’s convenient and practical, but the risk of where it can lead is too great. Every person deserves eye contact and an exchange of communication between equals.
           
There are many lessons we take with us from our Egypt experience. Some of them are grand theological messages while others are subtle, timeless human insights.
           
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat ­– our Jewish time to regroup, rest and reinvigorate.
 
Shabbat shalom,
Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Vaera

This week’s Torah reading, parshat Vaera, begins the narrative of Moses telling Pharaoh to send Israel from Egypt.  It is a recurring refrain in our text, ‘send My people out so they may worship Me in the wilderness’, says God.  The insistence that new beginnings must happen in the desert –a place with no constraints, no reference points, no benchmarks.  

But the strength of the wilderness also represents its greatest threat: no constraints, no reference points, no benchmarks.  It is a disconnect from everything we know with only glimpses of what may come –it is shifting sands.  Yet, it is the only answer to Egypt.

Leaving Egypt is not something we welcomed, it is a mistranslation to say, “Let My people go”, since the Hebrew always says, “Send My people out”.  We don’t want to leave Egypt; we want to stay there but not suffer as slaves.  Pharaoh is being told to expel us, not release us.

At times, the human journey is not one of slow evolution, but one of seeming disconnect.  As modern Jews, we can feel the disconnect by living in two cultures, Jewish and secular, and we’re not always sure how they speak to each other. This Shabbat marks the beginning of the secular year 2022, and that marker alone can represent the disconnect for many of us.  More than two years ago, in 2019, the world redefined, and we all thought things would return to normal if we could hold tight for two weeks.  Weeks have turned into years, and we may still feel caught in the wilderness, circling in what seems like shifting sands.

These are the moments when the two cultures we live in serve to strengthen us.  Rosh Hashanah, our Jewish New Year, focuses on the year that was, our reflections on the choices we made, as we pray for another year of time.  The secular new year, Jan. 1, focuses on the year to come, with its possibilities and our resolutions –no reflections on the year that was.  We do not want to choose which orientation to take, reflective or projective, we welcome them both.

Another calendar page turns, and while it may feel like a wilderness with no release, we remember that sometimes we are forced into a wilderness.  From within that great expanse, we can stagnate, or we can reflect and transform.  

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Shemot

This week in our reading, parshat Shemot, we meet Moses, the person we know most about in Torah.  While one book of the Torah tells us of creation and our ancestors, the other four books happen during Moses’ lifetime.  We honour our ancestors for giving us the foundation of our Judaism, but it is Moses who teaches us the structure of Judaism, it is he who delivers the Torah and all that we need to function and flourish within covenant.  We refer to Moses as Moshe Rabeinu, the term used for a Master with disciples —we acknowledge we are all his disciples.  It speaks to the challenge we face today as we see an important message conveyed to us sitting quietly in the meaning of the name ‘Moses’.

In the narrative, Pharaoh’s daughter takes Moses out of the Nile and names him.  She explains that she named him ‘Moses’ because “I drew him from the water”.  Pharaoh’s daughter has blessed the baby with a name that reflects her action.  In other words, the name ‘Moses’ is grammatically connected to the person doing the action, not the person receiving it.  He is not the one drawn from the water, he is the one who pulls someone else from the water.  The blessing and the message that speaks to us today is in the choice to be active when one is positioned to be passive.

As we enter the winter months, we are again facing health cautions and medical warnings.  For some of us it’s becoming an easy transition, as we adjusted ourselves to it months ago.  For others, it is an unwelcome restriction that is forcing its way back into our lives.  We could easily perceive it as a call to be passive and ‘wait things out’.  But it is actually a call to be active, as we change our means of maintaining connections.   Pharaoh’s daughter blessed Moses with an understanding that we keep our eyes on others, and we draw them towards us to safety and to strength.

Most of everything has now returned to online, at a time when we crave each other and could be tired of looking at our screens.  I encourage everyone to keep their cameras on when we gather virtually, as that small act moves us from passive participation to active interaction.   It is important to remember to draw others you know to likewise meet online.  Let them know what you’re doing and send them links to join you.  

As we keep our eyes on each other, and draw one another out of moments of feeling isolated, to gather together online, we are reminded of the ongoing lessons we learn from Moshe Rabeinu, our Master Teacher.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat —our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Vayechi

This week’s Torah reading, Vayechi, which means ‘And he lived,’ contains beautiful messages about life. Our patriarch, Jacob, spends seventeen years in Egypt, and we know that Joseph, his son, was seventeen years old when he was kidnapped. In essence, Jacob is gifted back the same number of years to spend with Joseph, to have a life ‘do over.’ Many moments in life present themselves to us more than once, and we can seize the chance to live them differently. We watch to see if Jacob uses the second seventeen years to parent Joseph differently.
           
Yet, one of the most powerful lessons we learn from Jacob about life happens as he prepares for his death. Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons: Ephraim and Menashe. Joseph lines them up by birth order, but Jacob crosses his arms to place his right hand on the head of the youngest instead of the eldest. Throughout Genesis, we learn that names connect to essence and inform destinies. Joseph named his eldest son ‘Menashe,’ a name that means he hopes to forget the pain of his past, while his youngest son’s name, ‘Ephraim,’ means to be fruitful in his future. One name is negative, and one name is positive. Jacob, their grandfather, crosses his arms so he becomes the conduit through which to balance the names and destinies of his grandchildren. Jacob shows us that balance is key, and that older generations teach life balance.
           
Every Friday night, we place our hands on the heads of our children and we do what Jacob did. Daughters are blessed to be as our matriarchs, and we reverse the order of the names of Leah and Rachel. Sons are blessed to be as Ephraim and Menashe, Jacob’s grandsons, and we reverse the order of their names when we say it.
           
This week, we learn two crucial life lessons from Jacob. We learn that life presents us with parallel moments of choice, moments that centre on us. But we also know we don’t secure the future through us, we secure it through the generations to come, and that the greatest blessing we can give our children, and our grandchildren, is the blessing of balance. 
 
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.
 
Shabbat shalom,
Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Vayigash

This week’s Torah reading, Vayigash, shows us Joseph’s climactic reunion with his brothers.  As a leader in Egypt, Joseph is unrecognizable to his brothers, and on hearing of Jacob, his aging father, Joseph breaks down and reveals his identity to his brothers.  

The brothers stand dumbfounded as Joseph peppers them with questions about his father.   Never once does he ask why no one came to look for him or if his father found out the truth about what happened.  Joseph inquires after his father’s health and then demands that the brothers bring Jacob to Egypt.  

When we look at Joseph’s instructions to his brothers, we find an interesting comment that seems out of place.  Joseph tells his brothers to bring Jacob to Egypt, and then says they should tell him of all the honours Egypt has given Joseph, his high station, and the grandeur they have witnessed.  We’re suddenly aware of the human moment that speaks to us all: Joseph is trying to impress Jacob.

With all of Joseph’s accomplishments, it is most important to him that his father be made aware.  Every child wants to bring a moment of pride to their parent, to hear the praise of accomplishment, to know they have taken a step forward.  Joseph has sustained hundreds of thousands through a famine, but still feels the need to know that his father, Jacob, is proud of him.

It’s these human moments that speak so strongly to us —we have all stood where Joseph stands.  As adults, we learn to measure our own accomplishments, to find the moments to feel proud of ourselves. As children, we’ve all watched our parents watching us, and learned to recognize that feeling when we see pride in their eyes.  It is the touchstone we all need to build self-confidence –we then learn how to feel proud of ourselves.  

Part of us will always indulge the child within who watches our parent for that moment.  It is timeless, as we connect with the memories of our parents for that same moment, even long after they’ve gone.

      I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Miketz

This week’s parshah, Miketz, details Joseph’s life in Egypt.  Joseph is our Jewish ancestor who lives his life blending into the larger culture around him.  He holds his covenantal identity in his heart, but he appears outwardly like anyone else.  

  We love the details of the story because we all want to teach our children to do what Joseph did.  Hearing Pharaoh’s concerns, Joseph describes the job needed to solve the problem, and then applies for that job.  

  In fact, everything goes beautifully until his family arrives.  Joseph must now find a way to blend his worlds into one identity.  Creating an identity that prospers in a dominant culture is challenging enough, but it becomes even more layered when two cultures are vying for our identities.  

  Chanukah is the holiday that speaks to us of a time when we tried blending cultural identities only to find that the dominant culture around us didn’t want the blend – it wanted assimilation.  This week we celebrate recognizing that important difference as we insisted on self-defining.  Chanukah marks a time when we encountered identity questions from the outside as well as from the inside.  One of the strongest lessons of Chanukah is that we do not live isolated from other cultures, but we do not ever forfeit our Jewish core, or our right to define our own identities.  

Eight little candles that remind us of the spiritual strength that lies within each of us as we navigate a complex world of cultural offerings.

      I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael

Rachael’s Centre Chanukah Resources

Chanukah, also called Chag Urim, the Festival of Lights, occurs as the days are getting shorter and darkness grows through the winter.  Growing darkness can be frightening, and the candles represent the stability of knowledge, spirituality and our ability to help light the way for each other.  As we enjoy the candles each night, let’s remember that Chanukah also speaks of Jewish heroes.  Sitting together lighting the candles is a wonderful opportunity to share our stories of family heroes, and the people who have guided us in our lives.  The symbols of the candles are invitations for us to remember that those who inspire us and bring light to our lives can be honoured by sharing their stories, just as we have learned to speak of the Maccabees.

Wishing everyone a very happy and meaningful Chanukah this year shared with family and friends.  

Chag Urim sameach!

Rachael


  • Dr. Rachael Turkieicz’s paper on Omitting the Maccabees

  • Coloring Pages at Crayola.com

https://www.crayola.com/free-coloring-pages/holidays/chanukah-first-night-coloring-pages/


  • Chanukah word scramblers at bigactivities.com

https://www.bigactivities.com/word_scrambles/Chanukah/index.php


  • Dr. Rachael Turkienicz’s video on Women: the forgotten heroes of Chanukah

  • Chanukah recipe roundups from BonApatite.com

https://www.bonappetit.com/gallery/Chanukah-dinner-recipes


  • Coloring Pages at Getcoloringpages.com

http://www.getcoloringpages.com/Chanukah-coloring-pages


  • Dr. Rachael Turkienicz’s video on The Chanukah Story in World History: Does it All Check out? 

  • Udiscovermusic.com 25 best songs to celebrate the festival of lights

https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/best-Chanukah-songs/


  • Chanukah connect the dots at bigactivities.com

https://www.bigactivities.com/ctd/Chanukah/index.php


  • Dr. Rachael Turkienicz’s video on Who Where the Maccabees?

  • Chanukah recipe roundups from TasteofHome.com

https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/Chanukah-recipes/


  • Chanukah Crossword puzzle at bigactivities.com

https://www.bigactivities.com/crossword_puzzles/Chanukah/index.php


  • Dr. Rachael Turkienicz’s video on How to Play the Dreidel Game

  • Chabbad’s list of Chanukah music

https://www.chabad.org/multimedia/music_cdo/aid/218974/jewish/Chanukah-Songs.htm


  • Chanukah story starters at bigactivities.com

https://www.bigactivities.com/story_starters/Chanukah/index.php


  • Dr. Rachael Turkienicz’s video on How to Light Chanukah Candles

  • Chanukah word decoder puzzles at bigactivities.com

https://www.bigactivities.com/word_decoders/Chanukah/index.php


  • Chanukah word searches at bigactivities.com

https://www.bigactivities.com/word_searches/Chanukah/index.php


  • Chanukah recipe roundups from Delish.com

https://www.delish.com/holiday-recipes/Chanukah/g3095/ultimate-Chanukah-recipes/?slide=12


  • Chanukah songs for kids

  • Chanukah Music roundup from MyJewishLearning.com

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/Chanukah-songs-music/


  • Kveller Chanukah Music

https://www.kveller.com/article/top-ten-Chanukah-songs/


  • 21 Chanukah songs for kids from Parents.com

https://www.parents.com/holiday/Chanukah/Chanukah-songs-for-kids/


  • Rachael’s blog posts on the eight nights of Chanukah from 2019
  • The First Candle: Looking Forward or Looking Backward?
  • The Second Candle: Liberating Gender Barriers
  • The Third Candle: Get the Gelt While the Getting’s Good
  • The Fourth Candle: Let the Man Handle It
  • The Fifth Candle: Only I Get To Say Who I Am
  • The Sixth Candle: I Need a Hero
  • The Seventh Candle: People Are Strange When You’re A Stranger
  • The Eighth Candle: We Have Come to Chase the Darkness Away

  • Rachael’s Chanukah Blog 2020

Parshat Vayeishev: I Will Send You a Little Candle https://www.rachaelscentre.com/2020/12/11/parshat-vayeishev-i-will-send-you-a-little-candle/


  • Rachael’s Centre Chanukah Video Archive

https://www.rachaelscentre.com/chanukah/

Chanukah Sameach everyone!

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Rachael’s Centre

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Vayeshev

This week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, begins the Joseph narratives with all its beautiful complexities.  It begins by telling us that Joseph would bring bad reports of his brothers to his father, Jacob.  It then says that Jacob loves Joseph, and his brothers hate him. Most of the commentaries depict Joseph as privileged and spoiled —he is the favourite son who tells tales about his brothers.  But the Torah may be painting a different picture.

On the fateful day of Joseph’s kidnapping, Jacob sends him to check on his brothers.  As we follow him through his day, we see that his brothers are not where they’re supposed to be.  In fact, they’re camped by a trade route.  It begs the question of what they are doing with their father’s sheep near a trade route.  Perhaps these brothers are not as innocent as they seem.

As the story develops, we see the immorality of the brothers, including the cowardly lies that plunge their father into decades of mourning.  Given all the details, we might consider that they have been poaching their father’s sheep and selling them on the trade routes. This might be part of the ‘bad reports’ that Joseph was trying to tell his father.

The complex issues of the Joseph story start at home where he is faced with a conflict of morality.  His life journey will always centre on moments of moral choice, as do ours.  Our days are filled with moral conflicts that are usually small, but still quite meaningful.  When to speak up about something and when to let it go; when to confront and when to negotiate.  The Torah wastes no time showing us that the challenges Joseph faces appear in our lives all the time.

  There are no easy answers and no single solution to these nuanced moments

of choice.  At times we have done wrong, and stand in the footsteps of the brothers, at times we have been hurt, and stand where Jacob stood, and at times we have tried to resolve conflict, and only made it worse – we stand in Joseph’s shoes.

The power of these narratives is we see that healing can only start when each person owns the part they played and stops searching for someone to blame. 

Just another reason to cherish this beautiful narrative.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,

Rachael