This week's Torah portion, B'ha'alotcha, begins with a command to Aaron, that as preparations for use of the Tabernacle (mishkan) are completed, he is to "set up the menorah, and let the seven lamps give light." Perhaps you can picture the seven-branched menorah, famously featured on Israeli coins and also in a carving on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The menorah is a central symbol of the Jewish people, dating back to ancient times. But why are there seven branches, and why is it emphasized that each of the seven lamps must give off its own light?
This week's Torah portion, B'ha'alotcha, begins with a command to Aaron, that as preparations for use of the Tabernacle (mishkan) are completed, he is to "set up the menorah, and let the seven lamps give light."
Perhaps you can picture the seven-branched menorah, famously featured on Israeli coins and also in a carving on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The menorah is a central symbol of the Jewish people, dating back to ancient times. But why are there seven branches, and why is it emphasized that each of the seven lamps must give off its own light?
Some commentaries focus on the seven branches representing the seven days of creation. In other words, the menorah represents the totality of light, and the divine act of creation itself.
In another interpretation, the medieval kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria explains that the six branches represent various scientific and academic disciplines, while the central branch stands for Torah learning. In this explanation, each of the seven branches of the menorah reminds us of the different kinds of learning and knowledge that bring light into the world.
Here at Kavana, we might interpret the menorah as representing the different groups of people who make up our community and shine brightly, both individually and together. Which of these categories represents you, and your light?
1) The Kavana Board - This year, 11 dedicated individuals helped to steer our community's direction, with oversight and care. We are grateful to all of them, and particularly our outgoing board members Julie Burg (a past-president), Aaron Averbuch, and Jessica Cohen.
2) The Kavana Staff - This year, Kavana accomplished so much... particularly considering that our core staff of full-time employees only consisted of 3 individuals (Rabbi Rachel, Liz, and Rabbi Josh). Our 15 part-time educators work so hard and have brought joy and light of their own. We couldn't do this work without our incredible staff team!
3) Our Partners - Partners are the core members of Kavana who take ownership for their own Jewish experiences and for creating this community. Partners commit to regular attendance/ "face-time" at Kavana programs, to making a personally significant financial contribution each year, and to volunteering in a variety of ways. You are truly our backbone - and we are grateful for each and every one of you!
4) Our Participants - One of Kavana's values has always been to remain accessible and open, even to folks who are just checking out our community or in the early stages of exploring their Jewish identity. If you are a Kavana participant, you pay as you go in Kavana. We appreciate the light you bring, and look forward to your increased involvement and investment over time.
5) Our Friends and Family - Many of you on this email list are here because Kavana is important to your loved ones, and some of you have come to consider this your community as well, through association. We are so grateful for your presence, and the love you represent!
6) Our Benefactors, Supporters and Champions - Some of you are here, not for personal benefit or involvement, but because you see the importance of Kavana, and how this organization builds a vibrant and relevant Judaism for a wide swath of the Seattle Jewish community. Thank you for believing in our work and for adding your light to ours so that we can all shine brighter!
7) Our Admirers from Afar - Proof is in the inbox... some of you on our email list have joined because you are curious about Kavana and want to learn from the experiments we run, day in and day out. We are so pleased that you are here too, and through you, we hope that Kavana's light shines bright across the country and around the globe.
Returning to Parashat Be'ha'alotcha, the section of text about the menorah ends with a reminder that the entire lamp-stand was a hammered work of gold. So too, our community, which is precious through and through, "from base to petal."
The light of the Kavana menorah shines most brightly when each of the branches contributes its own light to the mix. As our fiscal year draws to a close, we pause to express our gratitude for all that you have given and contributed. As a non-profit organization that operates on a slim budget, we value every single "dollar of light" added to our collective pot.
If you are a Kavana partner and you have already made your annual financial gift (or if you contribute funds quarterly or monthly), THANK YOU. We hope that you feel great knowing just how far your support goes in building something that is truly gold and magical.
If you are not a Kavana partner -- meaning that you fall into categories 4, 5, 6 and/or 7 above -- and you haven't had a chance to contribute yet in our current fiscal year (July 2018 - June 2019), or if you feel moved to make an additional contribution now, we would be grateful for your support as well. Funds raised between now and the end of the month will help us begin the next programming year on solid financial footing, and will also help Kavana maintain our current level of operations and even grow as grant funding for our rabbinic fellow draws to a close next year. Please click here to contribute online, or send donations to Kavana, PO Box 19666, Seattle, WA 98109.
Wherever you fit into the menorah of our community, please know that we are grateful for the light that you bring. Your light helps us shine an even brighter light into the world!
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.