Yearly Archives: 2021

A Taste of Torah: Shema, part 3

We’ve learned a lot about the Shema – arguably the most important prayer in Judaism, in part 1 and part 2. We now conclude by answering some remaining questions, like what’s up with all the mumbling and kissing, and why do we say the Shema differently at certain times. So take a few minutes to watch this Taste of Torah video, and learn the answer to these questions and more, as we complete our exploration of the Shema.

A Taste of Torah: Shema, part 2

In part 1, we learnt a bit about the Shema – mostly what it is and when we say it. But we still have a lot of questions to address, like what’s up with covering our eyes, all the mumbling and kissing, and whether we’re supposed to sit or stand. So take a few minutes to watch this video as we continue our journey through the Shema.

A Taste of Torah: Shema, part 1

Let’s talk about the Shema. For such a simple prayer, there’s a ton to know. Like, why do we even say it? And why do we sometimes say it quietly and other times out loud? Are we supposed to cover our eyes or not? And should we be sitting or standing? And what’s up with all the kissing? There’s so much to learn! So here’s what we’re going to do: Instead of answering all these questions in one really long video, we’ll be exploring the Shema in three parts.

A Taste of Torah: Chanukah

It’s getting darker earlier and earlier, which means it’s almost time for Chanukah. Do you struggle to remember just exactly how to light the Menorah? Are you supposed to add candles from the left or right? And which direction do you light the candles? Why do we even light the Chanukah candles? And isn’t it a serious fire hazard to place those burning candles in the window near the drapes?! Take a few minutes to learn the answers to these questions and more in Rabbi Botnick’s latest video.

Embrace the Light

As we prepare to say goodbye to 2021 and reflect on the past year, I can’t help but focus on the challenges of the pandemic and lockdown, as well as the cautious optimism of reopening.

Despite all the pain and suffering we experienced over the past eighteen months, many of us find ourselves still clinging to a general sense of hope and faith. Call it naive if you will, but I believe this outlook is woven into the fabric of the Jewish people.   Throughout history, the Jewish people has witnessed one devastating catastrophe after another. From the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem to the Crusades, from the Spanish Inquisition to the pogroms, and finally the Holocaust – each of these events saw mind-numbingly high numbers of casualties and a threat to the Jewish future.

Yet despite the pain and sorrow resulting from these events, the Jewish people held onto their faith and maintained hope in a better future. And no holiday embodies this sense of hope and optimism more than Chanukah.   The Talmud records a disagreement between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai over the proper way to light the Chanukah menorah: Beit Shammai says we should start with eight candles and remove one each day; Beit Hillel says we should start with one candle and add one more each day. As is almost always the case, Beit Hillel wins the argument, but their reasoning here is uniquely beautiful and powerful: Ma’alin BaKodesh VeEin Moridin – we only increase holiness, we never diminish it.   Another way to look at Beit Hillel’s ruling is to say that at the darkest time of the year, we light more and more candles in order to drive out the darkness of pain and suffering with the light of hope and optimism.  

Last year, we were not able to hold our annual Chanukah Bazaar due to the pandemic, but this year, we are cautiously reopening our doors. While I would understand if not all of you are ready to re-join us in person quite yet, the fact that we are allowing ourselves to return to some sense of normality shows that we are embracing the lesson of Chanukah and the story of the Jewish people: there may be times when we must hide in the dark, but a time will always come when we must embrace the light and help it grow.

Rabbi Gabriel Botnick