By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Ein Sof. Without End. All My Life’s a Circle.

Circles are 360 degrees – Double Chai for a minyan. And its circumference, while measurable, is also an endless roundabout caught in π. Circles are an endless fascination, and Torah, maintaining its analog appeal, “turns and turns,” like a wheel, “with everything inside.”

Literary Biblical scholar Avivah Zornberg in an interview with Krista Tippet reminds us of “one of the extraordinary, recursive references in the [Exodus] story. Over and over again, God says to Moses, Moses says to the people, ‘All this is happening so that you shall tell the story.’

It’s the Biblical Storytelling Circle Game.

“It’s so upside-down, you might say…” continues Zornberg, “Since it’s happened, all right, tell the story. Make sure people remember it. But that’s not the point. It’s not telling the story so as to remember what happened. It happened so as to be the stimulus for a meaningful story. And the stories will develop and change through time. And perhaps, in the end or along the way, you might find yourself telling a better story than what is actually written in the text. So long as there is some connection. So that what you have, for instance, on the Seder night, on Passover, is basically the commandment to tell the story of the Exodus, which doesn’t mean reading the Bible. It means — you know, it isn’t just opening up the Bible and reading.”

It’s at this point Rabbi Lori chimes in to the conversation between Krista Tippet and Avivah Zornberg (as if!): It’s about letting the story run through each of us. It’s about turning the story until all that is inside becomes revealed and refracted through our unique Neshamot (souls) finding their voice in the choir of voices that came before us and live through us today. It means being a part of our circular storytelling tradition…with one another.

Enter Open Temple Circles.

In the week of Parshat Yitro, Open Temple reveals emerging Circles of Practice within our community: Shabbat/Creativity Circle, Healing Arts Circle, What’s Next Circle (for Boomers) and a Poetry Circle. You are invited to explore the circles of practice and interest (below). Together, we will write the Torah running through us through healing, writing, exploring life’s meaning and rituals together as we Open our Temple.

With blessings of Light and Revelation,

Healing Arts Circle:

Tuesday, January 29th 7:30 pm

Boomer “What’s Next” Circle:
Tuesday, February 5th 6:00 pm

Poetry Arts Circle:
Wednesday, February 20th 7:00 pm

Shabbat/Creativity Circle:
Tuesday, February 26th 6:00pm

More info:

The Great Exodus March

The Great Exodus March
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

There’s a rabbinic midrash on Exodus 14:13, an interpretive story inspired by the Torah, that goes something like this: As the Israelites stood with the blanket of the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh’s army behind them, there were four different reactions:  the first was to say “Let us throw ourselves into the sea.” The second said, “Let us return to Egypt.” A third declared “Let us wage war upon the Egyptians,” and then a fourth chorus cried, “Let us pray to God.” The rabbis teach that Moses’ response rejected all four opinions, and implored the people, “Fear not; stand by, and see the salvation of God which God will show to you today.”

One might read Moses’ response as satisfactory; or, less so – as a passive call to God’s miracles. As one who doesn’t necessarily know what God is or even that God is, and even considers the entire construct of a sentence that begins with “God is…” an impossible consideration, the concept of miracles enacted upon us by a personal God alienate my spirit of what is possible.

And so, what might Moses have meant?

It is here that I call upon what is more relatable — this weekend.  As we “Turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King…,” (to quote James Taylor), might we reveal the hidden message of Moses’ instruction through the prism of Hebrew? In a playful shuffling of the Hebrew, without bounds or ties to vowels, a verse traditionally invoking a (possibly) unknowable G?d, converts from the passive instruction: “Fear not; stand by, and see the salvation of God which God will show to you today,” into a Call to Action:  God! Radical Amazement! Rise up and See God’s Transcendent Presence that One (You) Will Make Happen Today.”

It’s the moon that moves the tides; the currents, tectonics and weather that makes waves; it is the energy of one body interacting with another that Causes for Creation. It is not in heaven – it is of us, upon us, within us all.

The Presence is Here. The Time is Now. And the One is You.

Freedom Shabbat.
Find your Wave.
Make it Happen.
This Friday at 7:15.

With Love and Torah Light,

The Miracle of Waves

The Miracle of Waves
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Ocean waves. Radio waves. Birthing waves. Waves reveal the presence of something greater than ourselves in action. Ocean waves are water’s way of revealing its interplay with the wind and its underworld. Radio waves are imperceivable until they are harnessed by a transmitter or antenna to reveal their hidden messages. The waves of childbirth move through the mother, unleashing a chemical reaction that spasms the body into the birth of life in an experience that I called “a visitation from Shechinah“. We are all transformed and born through The Waves that, unknowingly yet ceaselessly, surround us.

Our Torah cycle reads like the greatest of Hollywood films these weeks, with Freedom Fighters and Pharaohs. I invite you to experience the miracle of the parting of a sea with towering waves juxtapositioned with images of the biggest wave surfed ever recorded (see video, above) as a visual meditation with the kavanah (intention) of recalling that we live in a time of miracles that we can strive to perceive and experience. From receiving this message in the palm of your hand, to finding love and friendship, to our health, to our beautiful Venice seaside, the parting of the Red Sea reminds us to Find Our Freedom through the Small Miracles that happen in our lives every day.

Each of us are a product of the waves. Each of us are drawn to them. Each of us has a purpose that creates a wave.

Find Your Wave.

with Love and Torah Light,

Last Night of Hanukkah

Open Temple’s “Hanukkah on the Canals Parade” Party
Source: The Jewish Journal

Armando at the Jewish Journal visited our Eighth Night Hanukkah on the Canal Parade Party with Open Temple and turned out this amazing video capturing the experience. May the lights continue to shine! Thank you, Armando!

Celebrating Light and Hope

Celebrating Light and Hope in Our Time of Darkness
By: Esther D. Kustanowitz, featuring Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Source: The Jewish Journal

How do we celebrate the rededication of the Temple destroyed long ago, when we and our families, friends and neighbors are reeling from these urgent crises?

Shammai Hanukkiah

A Shammai Hanukkiah.
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The story of Hanukkah is a literary tel, formed over several millennia, its origins spinning through the Book of Maccabees I and II though Josephus, the Talmud, Maimonides and beyond; it’s a literal literary time machine.  And if each evolving civilization imprints its own addition to this tale, might we look around at our times and ask “what is our contemporary contribution to the telling?” Perhaps, this year, no matter is more important to illuminate than the Spirit of Machloket (disagreement).  Most famously preserved in the mental sparring of rabbis Hillel vs. Shammai, the rabbis of the Talmud respectfully preserved the minority opinion in matters of dissent.

When lighting the Hanukkah Menorah, aka the Hanukkiah, according to the House of Hillel, we begin with one light and increase the light each day until we have all eight illuminated. What if, this year, all of us reclaim the Shammai Hanukkiah; Hillel’s sparring partner and primary adversary. Perhaps this year, in addition to our beloved Hillel Hanukkiah (Shabbat Bavli, 21b), we follow Shammai’s teaching and begin with a blaze of all eight candles, symbolic of the great fires in our city, state and nation, and practice a Shammai reduction of the flame for eights nights as a meditation of our human condition – humbled in the face of nature’s power, our hunger for unity and the work it takes to become one?

This Hanukkah, Open Temple shares this tradition at our annual “Hanukkah on the Canal Parade” as we gather and dedicate ourselves to the search for light in times of darkness.  We hearken to the sounds of strangers and invite the Other into our hearts and homes as an eight night meditation of reduced light to guide our return; until a singular candle, representing all of us, together and alone, becomes our sole companion; a singular light, reminiscent of the mystery and promise of creation; all of us – One.


On Religion

On Religion
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Spiritual but not Religious is the Cis-Gender identity of the millennial seeker.  It’s a way of saying “I like yoga class, I honor my body with organic kale chips lightly grazed by a free range buffalo on the wide open plains of a lesbian run eco-village in Southern Utah, and my parents divorced when I was 11, so they left religion for me to figure out so I am vegan except for Carrot Cake on special occasions.”  

It’s complicated.  But not really.

If there was a way to crawl into the minds of those who lived 100, 200, 500, 2000 years ago, would you?  If there was a time machine of the mind where you could, with immediacy, understand the way of the world before there were sound bites, tweet updates, insta-rags and pinterest-ing distractions, would you go for the ride?  

To begin with, I find most things really onerous these days.  When given the chance to do much, I opt to do less.  Less tweeting, less insta-gratifying, less social media binging.  It’s enough to get my own life straight, let alone judge another’s.

And yet, it’s like like proverbial car-wreck that we can’t turn away from.  And we are the test-dummies strapped in for a head-on as we push full force into the accelerator.  It’s like we can’t live without these grandiose displays of human carnage through lurid tales of sexual assault, obituaries of shooting victims, photos of fires ranging through homes, and the tweets, pushes and messages that bombard us with them.

So, step on board and see that we are no different today than we were 100, 200, 500 or 2000 years ago. And maybe that’s why we are repeating these indiscretions with such alacritious force and disfunction. Maybe it is the very denial of our right to know those who came before us that creates in us the curse of repetition.  

In my own short life, I’ve lied, I laid, I’ve loved and lost and laughed at things that I shouldn’t have.  I’ve seen disfunction from my own family to those I dwell next door to, and as I open this book, this scroll, this daph, I know that it is all just a part of this human experience.

The matriarchs and patriarchs hadn’t figured any of this stuff out any more than we did.  They gossiped with cunning and shtupped wantonly from one partner to another. The only differences between them and us is that their lives were reframed in context of a higher ideal, and their promiscuity was in service of something larger than themselves.  

We’re in the thick of Genesis this week, and we’re also in the thick of family relationships.  If the Torah is a “Book of Laws” why didn’t it begin with “This is the first law?”  Rashi, the famed 11th c. commentator asks.  “To Learn Derekh Eretz” is his ostensible answer.  And what is Derekh Eretz?  Literally, it means “the way of the earth.”  But, metaphorically, it is the way of the earth – our passions, love, and desire to elevate our lives into meaningful and beneficial experiences.  Abraham? Iconoclast and Rebel who renewed Monotheism in the ancient world.  Rebecca?  Cunning and Measured which she converted into Genrousity.  Leah? Perhaps a great lover who flourished in Motherhood.  Moses? A reluctant player in the God narrative with a speech impediment who rose to the call of Leadership.  

So, what will it be for us as we face our families this Thanksgiving?  Will we succumb to the same pitfalls of conflict, or will we elevate the conversation to reflect our greatest selves?  If we could reframe our fatal flaws in service of a larger ideal, what meaning would it bring to our lives?  

This is the fabric from which the tales of religion were woven.

Spiritual but not religious?  I have no idea what you mean.

On Faith

And they were like fallen leaves, in their golden years. 
Through their memory, we re-dedicate our lives towards acts of loving kindness, faith and blessing.  We remember the 11.

The open grave of Rose Mallinger (z”l) whose life was taken at Tree of Life at the age of 97.

On Faith
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

What is faith?   Its meaning, derived from the Hebrew, “Emunah,” is from the same word as “Amen” as in “I believe!”.  But, what is faith?  And how does it present in today’s world? Is faith an expression of naivete, a Pollyannaish ostrich maneuver that lays our head in the sand as a windstorm blows about us?  What role does faith have in a country divided by ideology?  Does faith discriminate?  Can I be someone who says “I believe it is all going to work out for the good?” if in stating that am only considering the half of those surrounding me who possess the same beliefs that I, myself, have?

I think it’s time to dig deep into faith.  The Hebrew root begins with this sound “Om” – sounds familiar?  It’s a sound that is a universal call to peace, a sound that transcends the dizzying cubistlike perspectives of the collective and requires that we, you, me, all of us surrender to a Universal Presence.  Sometimes the Universal Presence is the need to work with what you have, no matter the political difference or moral incongruity of those who surround you.  Does it really mean taking to the streets and screaming our lungs out as a grandiose and public protest of injustice?  Or does it mean having enough presence of self to do something about it in every small moment of life?

After the shooting in Pittsburgh the President of the hospital, Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, was called upon to monitor the health of the shooter.  He went into his room and asked him if he was in any physical pain.  He spent some time with him, reviewing his chart, and monitoring his vitals.  After he was assured that his patient was cared for, he left the room.  As he was leaving, the FBI agent who was guarding the patient called out to him, “I don’t know that I could have done that.” Doctor’s Cohen’s response was succinct:

“We’re here to take care of sick people,” Cohen, who is a member of the Tree of Life congregation where the massacre happened, said. “We’re not here to judge you. We’re not here to ask ’Do you have insurance?’ or ’Do you not have insurance?’ We’re here to take care of people that need our help.”

Dr. Cohen’s actions resemble those of a man of humble faith.  Faith is about showing up when we are called upon.  With dignity. With humanity.  With discernment. Having faith is to transcend the ego and provide an elevation offering in the face of chaos that says “I see something greater here than myself; I see the workings of my Creator through My Hands, My Dignity, My Care.”  Faith is what makes this world turn in the face of insanity. Faith is what restores our human dignity in the throes of destruction. Faith is Dr. Cohen’s Act of Defiance through Decency before the face of an Anti-Semitic killer. Faith is not for the feeble hearted or ideologue.  It is not in heaven.  It is right here.  

Emunah.  Amen.  Om….

Bringing Home Early Detection

Yehudit Abrams: Brining Early Detection Home
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Israeli physician and engineer Yehudit Abrams speaks about the influence of Open Temple and Rabbi Lori’s impact on her life for Israel National News at 26 minutes into this interview.  Dr. Abrams award winning Monither empowers women to monitor changes in their own breast tissue and is a revolutionary innovation in breast cancer early detection.