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Welcome to CyberTorah

 Torah Commentary by Rabbi David Booth

CyberTorah is a weekly commentary by Rabbi David Booth, spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, California.

Rabbi Booth was educated at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and...Read more...

Love Is in the Air

Jewish holidays tend to be either fairly intense (see Yom Kippur) or sad (see Tisha B’av). And then we have Tu B’av, a festival of love and romance that was almost totally forgotten. According to the Mishnah:

There were no happier days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying?...Read more...

Love and Courage

As many of you know, Israel is engaged in inner political turmoil the likes of which we have never seen before. There has been political violence, street protests shutting down transportation and roads, and even threats of a reservist pull back. Any one of these challenges can rip the country apart. All of them together are terrifying. The military has said that readiness is at issue so real existential harm is closer to hand than...Read more...

I Love Kol Emeth

I love Kol Emeth. I love the kindness and welcome in our community. I have watched bar and bat mitzvah students come up to speak. Maybe they have a stutter, or they speak too fast. I wonder: will the community have the patience to accept this person as they are? The answer is always yes. I have watched people make sure someone in a wheelchair has a spot to sit. I see people offering hugs and welcome when others arrive to Kol Emeth for a...Read more...

Revelation at Sunrise

Sinai didn’t happen just once. It happens all the time. The story we tell of Matan Torah, of receiving the Torah, describes Israel together experiencing the Divine, the Anokhi that is God, in their lives. The miracle was that the whole people shared in revelation. From the water drawer to the most wealthy, from the most physically inclined to the most spiritually elevated, God burst through. In that moment, the Israelites couldn’t bear...Read more...

The Origin of Ethics

The comments section on any social media is generally filled with vitriol, nastiness, and trolling. There is something about the distance created between the speaker and the listener that gives voice to some of the worst in the human soul. Warfare between nations has a similarly frightening component. Generals and political leaders may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the targets of their violence. They order destruction and...Read more...

Waiting for Sinai

We are getting ready for revelation. We are waiting for meaning, for coherence. We crave a sense that what we are doing matters and is significant. Yet we can never know, so we keep waiting. We stand freed from Egypt. We crossed the Sea three weeks ago but we have no idea where we are going. The promise is a land, but we’ve never been there and don’t know what it will be like.

We’ve been counting each day. Noticing at the...Read more...

Remembrance and Celebration 

In Israel, Israeli Independence Day is preceded by a day of memory. All those fallen in wars and acts of terror are memorialized. There is a service at Har Herzl in Jerusalem and a moment of silence throughout the country in which everything comes to a stop. Everyone in Israel knows someone who has died; everyone in Israel has a family member who has experienced a tragedy. Memorial Day here can feel more distant, but in Israel it is fresh,...Read more...

Phases of Redemption

Passover is the festival of redemption, celebrating God bringing us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Or rather, telling a story of redemption to remind all of us of our God-given capacity to find and enact redemption. Redemption has three levels and each Passover we have a unique opportunity to grow, to find a great quality of redemption in our lives.

First is freedom from slavery and political oppression....Read more...

Judicial Reform

The Judicial Revolution: A Guide

Israel is in the midst of a constitutional crisis around the role of the Supreme Court. Hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets in protest; the government is recklessly pushing forward a set of reforms dangerous to democracy. The President of Israel has warned of civil war. Fighter pilots have refused their reserve duty in protest. At the same time, 78% of Israelis support some judicial reform,...Read more...

A Guide for the Passover Perplexed

The State of Israel is the Mishkan, and we dare not lose it. Click here for Rabbi Booth’s talk about the political moment in Israel.

 

Passover is less than two weeks away. Now is the time to begin preparing our kitchens and our souls for the celebration of the holiday. I will focus this week on the physical preparations for the holiday, and next week on the spiritual. 

At Passover, we are commanded to...Read more...

Zionism Today

I am a Zionist. For me, that means a strong belief in a Jewish and Democratic state. It means a firm conviction that the opportunity to build the Israel of our dreams is a mitzvah for every Jew whether in the Diaspora or in the State of Israel. We waited for 2000 years to have a land of our own, to have a chance to bring Jewish ethics and thought into the reality of a State. Now that we have it, the work and the dreaming only gets...Read more...

 Feeling the Music 3/3/2023

There is something special about dancing in a circle. The Hasidic world sees dance as a way to feel something of God. By putting our arms around one another and by dancing and singing and clapping, we get carried away out of ourselves and are open to God. Yet, some look at that circle and wonder:are they crazy? Why are they dancing like that and what are they really feeling? I don’t even hear the music. According to the Baal Shem...Read more...

Liturgical Challenges

Question:

How do you experience Jewish prayer? Are you drawn into its words and hints and allusions, or do you find it hard to make meaning or sense of it?

A Sense of how I experience Jewish prayer

Jewish liturgy is a remarkable reworking and layering of Biblical verses. The Rabbis ask: why use words of silver when we have words of gold?” That is, why use the words of even the...Read more...

Engaging the Siddur - 02/17/2023

Finding our way into the prayer book is challenging. The language is layered and confusing, the translations occasionally abstruse, and the theology seemingly antiquated. Also, it has grown far too large over the years. It’s easy to add something, hard to remove it.

A quick example: I have a number of issues with Unatanetokef, the prayer in the Musaf Kedushah at Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. This prayer...Read more...

Brokenness and Wholeness - 02/10/2023

 

In my practical spirituality class, someone first described herself as neither religious nor spiritual. Then she shared  an experience in which she finds herself connected with community and finds a sense of being beyond the self. She said that the songs at the end of Yom Kippur are especially meaningful to her.

This leads to a question. How can someone who loves a key element of the...Read more...

GOD

 

When I say I believe in God, I never know what people think that means. I am confident that God isn’t some human-like entity living in the sky watching over us. I also don’t think God determines every choice I make or is looking after me in a direct and personal way. I also don’t believe that God is a person, or even an entity in any way that we normally mean.

I also don’t mean that...Read more...

Finding Blessings

 

Exercise: I invite you this week to concentrate on blessing people in your life. I invite you to look at the people around you and imagine: what are the words they need to hear right now? How can I name something in them that will be strengthened and enlivened by its being noticed? Take note of someone you love, write down or think about the words they need. Then, perhaps, find the courage to offer them...Read more...

Heres Why Not Pray on the Temple Mount

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a key coalition partner in the new Israeli government and the person in charge
of policing at the Temple mount, would like Jews to pray at that site. He is making a religious
freedom argument that feels compelling to us as Jews who believe in pluralism. Yet there are
dangerous halakhic, spiritual, and political problems in this apparent call for equity.


As a matter of Halakhah, Jews traditionally did...Read more...

Practical Spirituality

Jewish spirituality is broken. This manifests in several ways. It starts with theology. When we talk about
God, we lack a shared referent. We don’t mean some old guy up in the sky watching over us. We also
are Jews, so we know we don’t mean Jesus as a human manifestation of the Divine. (As an aside, the
Pew study shows that the one belief shared by Jews is that we aren’t Christian. This is a disaster for
Judaism because...Read more...

Impact Scholarship

 

Israel is a tale of two countries. The major cities – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, even Beer-Sheva, thrive. They have been part of an economic miracle as Israel takes its place as a major hub of technology and innovation. Other cities, places like Sderot or Tiberius, have been left behind. Those cities experience more poverty, more drug use, and less education and opportunity. Yet no matter...Read more...

“Jacob encountered the place….”

“Jacob encountered the place….”

As Jacob flees Esau, the Bible relates that he “encountered” or, more literally, “struck” a place. The Midrash imagines the place is none other than the place of Isaac’s almost sacrifice. At the very moment of leaving, Jacob encounters the most profound of family dramas, the binding of his father, the man who taught him to think of God as “the fear of...Read more...

Welcoming the Stranger


 

Kol Emeth has been fortunate to be thriving the last few years. The pandemic, for all the damage it did, also reminded people how much they need Shabbat and a spiritual community. Further, our new building appeals in a new way that complements our amazing team and congregation. I want to share with you a few ideas that have been powering that growth.

First: Kol Emeth is a serious...Read more...

Yep, He Really Said That

 

In recent weeks, there have been several disturbing expressions of antisemitism. Two people spoke from unbelievable depths of ignorance. One of whom should have known better, and pretended he was “only joking.” In none of these cases have the people involved apologized in a meaningful way or...Read more...

Elections, Elections, Elections, Elections, Elections

I believe in democracy as a system. I don’t always like the results, and the nature of democracy is to careen around in sometimes frightening and worrisome ways. And though it consistently works badly, it's also consistently better than anything else.

I don’t like the outcome of the recent Israeli elections. I am concerned that Netanyahu’s continued involvement in Israeli political life has become...Read more...

CyberTorah: The Sukkah as a Gateway to noticing the good.

Criticism of others is hard wired into the human psyche. When something goes poorly, especially
something that matters to us, we react as though the difficulty or failing is a threat. This floods the body
with all kinds of hormones that narrow our cognition and focus us on the threat. While this made sense
your friend has just foolishly thrown away his spear, it limits our response to today’s challenges.


As a...Read more...

From Fear to Joy


Fear is important. Let’s be honest: being afraid motivates. I can move surprisingly fast when I think
someone I love is in trouble. I avoid walking in certain areas with large frightening dogs. There are times
with family and friends when I am afraid of hurting someone and I act out of worry and anxiety. Fear
matters and motivates.


Yet, fear is only a tool to recognize what matters to me. I am afraid of that...Read more...

May we enter Yom Kippur whole and take our leave from Yom Kippur whole

Yom Kippur is both the most hopeful and most difficult Jewish day of the year. On the one hand, it rings
out and is filled with hope because it asserts we can change. The whole idea of Teshuvah, of repentance,
is that we are not prisoners of our past, of the scripts that we and our parents and families have written
for us. We are capable of writing our own entries in the Book of Life. With introspection and prayer, we
are...Read more...

A Guide to Surviving Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur  Or – Seven Tips to a Meaning – Filled Days of Awe

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are overwhelming and liturgically dense.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the experience.  Worse, since we do it every year, it’s easy to let it all pass over us and get bored.  Here follow seven tips to having a meaningful, spiritual, experience during the Holidays.

 

Make the experience personal.   Rosh Hashanah and Yom...Read more...

 Writing Scripts of Hope


 Writing Scripts of Hope

People often say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “God only sends us what we can handle.” I believe these related sentiments are almost entirely untrue. Certain challenges do strengthen us and teach us how to handle adversity. And I suppose by definition anything we survive we can handle. And yet, I believe losses and challenges wound us...Read more...

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784