Choose the blessing of identity


Shabbat R’eih

Shabbat Mevarchim: Rosh Chodesh Elul 5777

“Identity”, according to Rabbi Irwin Kula, “ including our religious identity, is becoming fluid, permeable, and an ongoing construction — a verb rather than a noun. “ This means that … Americans are increasingly becoming… “mixers, blenders, benders and switchers” who “customize our religious identities in order to find greater meaning and purpose.” One driver of this mixing of religious ideas results from “new powerful technologies from search engines to connection technologies.” This makes available religious and spiritual resources independent of religious authorities, which challenges exisiting institutions, whose business models and organizational structures are increasingly unsustainable. This alternative “model of authority and hierarchy, [with its] very limited barriers of entry and far more choices, …tends to be a user-friendly and open source environment.” The reality of this model is threatening to many clergy, and stands in sharp contrast to this week’s parasha, R’eih. (

Parashat R’eih is filled with legalities and is framed by blessings and curses associated with the choices we make concerning adherence to the Torah’s rules and regs. The Israelites are warned not to be lured by other nations to worship their gods. On this point, one commentary states, “Every religion has its own ‘grammar’, its coherent way of expressing its values. We do violence to that coherence when we mix practices of one faith system with another” (Eitz Hayim Commentary, p.1068). The text continues, “Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you: neither add to it nor take away from it” (Dt. 13:1). How, then, can each new generation reconcile the conflict that arises between preserving a rich heritage and way of life, and making out-of-the-box choices which challenge the institutions and sources of authority? Kula’s point is that this is already happening and represents a great opportunity.

Adam Stone offers a perspective that places “relevant ideas—and not institutions for institutions sake—as the dominant value proposition of Jewish life.” These ideas should relevant and meaningful to people, and lead to behaviors such as treating the stranger kindly, extending justice in the world, and learning to relax and rejuvenate. Stone emphasizes that he is not advocating for slapping a Jewish label on universal humanist tendencies. He is seeking an “intellectually robust and honest conversation,” not “Judaism-lite.” And, while acknowledging the role institutions play in supporting communal life, he emphasizes the importance of creating engaging alternatives for those more hesitant to become “joiners.”

IMG_0279  In contrast, Kula moves the discussion out of the Jewish community and into the global sphere. Responding to the rise intermarriage (racial, religious, ethnic, etc.) he believes that “more people with different inheritances and traditions form intimate relationships and families, the better we will understand each other across all boundaries, and the wiser we will be at knowing what from our rich traditions we need to let go of and transcend, and what we need to bring along with us to help us create better lives and build a better world.” This is a radical view which no doubt creates discomfort for traditionalists, liberals and secularists alike.

So, how can we make sense of today’s parasha?

Consider the opening verse: “See(Re’eih), this day I set before you blessing and curse; blessing, if you obey the commandments of YHVH your God that I enjoin upon you today…(Dt. 11:26) for “before you (lifneichem), is in the plural. Why? The Kotzker Rebbe explains that while the Torah was indeed given to everyone – it was placed before you all [those who were, are and will yet be] – each person only beholds in it that which s/he is capable of seeing.

IMG_0282Consider another reading. Perhaps this hints at the tension inherent between the choices made by an individual and those made by a community. It is within that tension that Judaism and the Jewish people struggle – hopefully, for a blessing. It is in this dynamic tension between the roots of tradition and wings of innovation that transformation takes place. Upon seeing the unique godliness in the individual may we be so blessed to manifest the love and acceptance needed to connect us together as part of the human family.

IMG_0280 Shabbat Shalom & Rosh Chodesh Tov,
Nina J. Mizrahi
Community Rabbi
Ames, Iowa & Chicagoland




Open your heart to joy

Instructions for the third week of comfort
Shabbat R’eih (Dt. 11:26-16:17)
Shabbat Mevarchim: Rosh Chodesh Elul

Revised 26 Av 5777/18 August 2017

self forgiveness - heart - Love

“And great shall be the happiness of your children”
V’rav shalom banayich (Is. 54:13)

Before we can save our children
We, the “unhappy, storm-tossed one, uncomforted!” (Is. 54:11)
Must save ourselves

R’eih -Open your heart to joy
To choose otherwise is to
curse ourselves with hopelessness
Seeing takes practice and full presence of being
Embrace the fullness of what is as it is
Gather in a harvest of joy – simcha
Set out as a cornucopia of blessings
Celebrate the bounty of your love
Make time for rejoicing
Pursue happiness

Calm the storm before it overcomes you
Breathe comfort into your suffering
Believe “You shall be safe from oppression” – Rachaki mei’oshek (Is. 54:14)
“And you shall have no fear” – Ki lo tira’i (Is. 54: 14)
Parched from the wilderness of terror
“Come for water” – L’chu lamayim (Is. 55:1)
Revive your wearied soul
“Eat well” –Ichlu tov (Is. 55:2)
To sate your hungry soul

V’rav Shalom –
Abundant peace and well-being
Will return you to life
V’samachta -“And you shall rejoice… with your son and daughter” (Dt. 16:14)
V’rav shalom banayich (Is. 54:13)
“And great shall be the happiness of your children”

Shabbat Shalom & Rosh Chodesh Tov!

Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi,
Community Rabbi, Ames Jewish Congregation & Chicagoland
Revised 26 Av 5777/ 18 August 2017

**Rosh Chodesh Elul falls on 8/22-23/2017. The last month in the Jewish calendar, it is characterized by mindful focus on preparing for the Days of Awe.  To “wake” us up from our “slumber”, the shofar is blown daily, except on Shabbat.  We also look to Psalm 27, which reminds us we enter this time of judgment not with fear, but trusting that our repentance will return us to one another and forgiveness will restore hope and peace.

“Your wilderness will become like Eden”

Shabbat Eikev

Second of seven weeks of comfort
leading up to Rosh Hashanah

Inspired by excerpts from this week’s Haftarah (Isaiah 49:14-51:3)
(revised 6 August 2017/ 14 Av 5777)

Birds-Flying free  Getting to Eden

Your wilderness will become like Eden (Is. 51:3)

Each drop of rain

Invites Paradise

A blossoming of beauty beyond description

Disrupts the arid wilderness

If only briefly…

Each awakening

Invites Paradise

A blossoming of gratitude

Transforms an arid soul

Into a Garden of Eden

If only briefly…

In the wilderness of the soul

Just beneath the surface

Ready to flourish

Paradise awaits

Summoning seeds of possibility

Already planted in

Children, adults and elders

The sure, the ambivalent and the questioning

Those connected and those disconnected

Those seeking and those hiding

The joyous and the angry

No distinction

No separation

           There is only Eden

It is us.

Imagine what would happen

Every parched soul quenched


Unique souls connecting

This DIVINE flow

Connecting each to the ONE

Invite a blossoming of breath

               Inhale joy

                    Exhale sorrow

Chai Ani – I am alive (Is. 49:18)

Morning by morning (Is. 50:4)

“And who is this aliveness in me?”(1)

“Is it not the Blessed Holy One?”

Gather this aliveness  into

A bouquet of unity –

Na’amda yachadLet us stand together (Is. 50:8)

      In this garden of blessed possibility


Your wilderness and my wilderness,

Your paradise and my paradise together

Will become like Eden

Gladness and Joy

Thanksgiving and the sound of music (Is. 51:3)

Will resound

Baruch tih’yeh

May you be blessed “(Dt. 7:14)

(1) A niggun called “I Am Alive” (Chai Ani) was composed by Rabbi Dovid Zeller, z”l(of blessed memory). Visit

SPIRITUAL PRACTICES                                   todah

Awaken gratitude

Quench     IMG_0270     Your parched soul

     Celebrate being alive    IMG_0265

                                      Inhale joy IMG_0268  Exhale sadness

       almond-blossoms Nurture a blossoming of …

      Harvest IMG_0357 a bouquet of unity

Stand together as One                                            IMG_0267

 Cultivate  gladness /sasson & joy/simcha

 Wishing you a beautiful week.

Shavuah tov,

Nina J. Mizrahi
Community Rabbi
Chicagoland & Ames Jewish Congregation, Ames Iowa

© 2017 by Nina J. Mizrahi
Do not duplicate