Weavers, Builders and Soul Journeys

Weavers, Builders and Soul Journeys
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Yesterday at Open Temple, Stephanie (our fabulous Managing Director, come in and meet her!) wore a t-shirt parody of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” (above). It made me think about the role of Torah in our lives – both in its pithy parody of the famed Pink Floyd album cover as well as what the cover itself illustrates.

Torah (and the Tanakh in its entirety – the Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writings), begins with the Book of Genesis for a reason.  If we are to go on a journey, we first must understand the path from which we came. The books that follow are similarly considered ancestral stories, histories, and thought pieces of the ancient world.  However, there is another element that becomes clear through this week’s Torah portion Vayakhel – it is upon us to untether ourselves with our past as we become builders of our destined future.

As white light refracts into a spectrum, each soul is a walking vessel of light with the potential to convert this light into a visible spectrum of inspiration – through vulnerability, truth-telling and found wisdom. At the time of the building of the Temple, Bezalel and Oholiab, the architects of the Temple, were considered “the wise-hearted into whose hearts I have instilled wisdom, and they shall make everything I have commanded you.” (Exodus 31:6).  It is upon all of us, today, to become builders of a modern Temple through radical and real acceptance of who we are, where we came from and where we are going.

In a recent NYTimes op/ed, David Brooks identified a movement without a name and named it.  The network of local connectors – creating spaces for social change through modalities ranging from community organizing to creating sacred space for small clusters of people – are the WEAVERS of our nation. Weavers are individuals who create such Temples in our society to connect others. All of us have the potential to weave and connect.  The work of creating the Temple in ancient Israel, or 39 Malachot, are ancient instructions about how to build a holy space for connection.  We draw from this well of creation, as today we build, thrash, grind, sift, knead, comb and weave our connections into a Temple for our Souls.

At Open Temple, we create a holy space at every service for this personal act of self creation and invite anyone interested in sharing their Soul Journey with us to come forward.  A Soul Journey is a unique invitation at our Third Friday Shabbat Take Me Higher services to share one’s vicissitudes and hard-earned wisdom, to illuminate the path for others through colorful and not always glorious truths. In this moment, we are invited to turn our gaze, and ourselves (as the word for turn in Hebrew is “T’shuvah” the act of returning to our true selves), from our past and focus on the creation from all of this wisdom to the Temple of our Future.

I invite you to share your Soul Journey and the Temple of your Soul with Open Temple.  I invite you to stand before the gathered community, be seen and heard with vulnerability and truth, and become a Builder of the Temple of the Soul.  Each of us has an essential piece of creation.  I would love to learn about yours.

With light and love,

If you are interested in sharing your Soul Journey please contact Open Temple at info@opentemple.org.


Table for Five

Table for Five
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro as featured in the Jewish Journal

Several times a year, I am invited into a roundtable discussion, either livestreamed, recorded, or in print for the Jewish Journal.  This week, the Jewish Journal invited my voice into its “Table for Five” where five different POVs over one pasuk (verse) of the weekly Torah Portion create a harmony of interpretations. It’s like a modern day Mikraot Gedolot, substituting contemporary rabbinic as well as prominent Los Angeles Jewish voices as stand-ins for Rashi, Maimonides and Rashbam, and refracting tradition through their modern-day minds.

Torah portion Ki Tisa moves from the closing description of the artisans building the holy space of worship in the desert, the Mishkan, into a reversal of idol worship – the ultimate affront to the very God we have been assiduously learning to worship.  A foreshadowing occurs when it reminds us to observe Shabbat – to take a mindful pause in our lives as a connection point between Judaism’s past, present and future.  The verse reads:

“And you, speak to the children of Israel and say: ‘Only keep My Sabbaths! For it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, the Lord, make you holy.’” –Exodus 31:13

Our pasuk begins with a curious conjunction; a short word, “ach,” meaning “above all,” “verily,” or most curiously, “nevertheless” — a seeming contradiction to its allied meanings. The preceding verses conclude a pericope spanning three Torah portions with detailed descriptions for the creation of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. As we come to the coda of God’s magnum opus, we meet this reversal: “Only/Above all/Verily/Nevertheless, keep my Sabbaths.” The invitation into Shabbat is unclear: Are we to continue the work of creation on Shabbat or not?

A choir of rabbinic voices rises up to tame the suggested contradiction. Torah is pliable enough that we can all agree, disagree or do both with their interpretations; as well as rigid enough to create a spectrum of incontrovertible convictions.

So what are we, seemingly “The Generations” mentioned in the verse, to do? Do we guard the Sabbath like sentries of an ancient palace? Or do we simply persist through the aisles of Target on a Saturday morning, wondering what davening would be like at that shul down on La Cienega?

Verily, there are those of us who might merely meditate on the letter vov at dawn as a part of a visual shiviti meditation. Whatever expression of hallowing its presence we choose, one thing is clear: A Temple has been built, its name is Shabbat, and it is, above all — from alef to taf with a vov in the middle — the sign upon which all of this hinges. Shabbat is ours to know and make our own.

Find a way to “Do” the empty space of Shabbat.  Fill it with intention, curiosity, expansion of the inner-knower.  And connect with those who walked before us and as a connector to those to come.

Shabbat ShalOm.

Sparking Joy

Sparking Joy
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Sara Berman lived. Born into a European world that no longer exists, she moved to the US, raised a family, got divorced and discovered her inner Marie Kondo before Marie Kondo was even born. Sara Berman’s Closet, currently on view at the Skirball Museum, proves that even the KonMari Method™ has its roots in a Jewish Grandmother, and is a standing altar to the fastidious ways of our foremothers.

At a recent event for the “closet opening,” Maira Kalman, Sara’s daughter and renowned New Yorker cartoonist and author, emphasized the significance of the closet as a form of personal expression. In an effort to reveal her authentic self, Sara began wearing only white, and spent the last three decades of her life simplifying her wardrobe, home, lifestyle, and closet. It wasn’t so much an act of minimalism, as it was a desire to remove the barriers that inhibited her authentic self from revealing its inner elegance.

At a time when our lives are filled with clutter – from our schedules, media, bills, social media friends, and more – how do we reclaim our authentic selves?

This week, we dedicate Torah reading Tetzaveh to Sara’s memory, as it contains the final verses of the pericope concerned with all matters of building of the Mishkan, the role of the Priests and the collections in their closets and pantries. Tetzaveh gives us an insider’s view of the maintenance of the Temple — how to light a menorah; how to make a ram sandwich; and how to organize the Temple closet. In its punctilious description of all things Temple oriented, we are reminded of the God Within the Details.

Indeed, like the redolence of the herbal  incense, I am reminded of Chanel Perfumes. Throughout my childhood, I remember visiting the grandmothers of my friends’ homes, and the ubiquitous presence of a large glass sculpture containing the golden liquid with its scent; it wafted throughout their homes. For a generation of woman, Sara Berman included, a signature scent was chosen in early adulthood and adopted for a lifetime. Like the incense offerings in the Temple, the scent brought with it a specific memory and meaning. Do you remember your Grandmother’s scent? In a life of clutter, we’ve lost our trail in a confusion of olfactory stimulus. Perhaps our national obsession with sparking joy through space clearing is an understated act of defiance against materialism and Search for God, akin to the simple instructions of how to light a menorah, how to dress as priests and re-introduce ourselves to simply and with simplicity enter into the Temples of our Lives. Perhaps in a world where we are all encouraged to “get out of the closet,” we need to also go back into them before coming out, and, like Sara, Maira and Marie, clean up our interior so that we can reclaim our essence and share it with the world, unequivocally, as we emerge beaming, blazing, shining menorahs of Human Light.

Inspired Hearts

Inspired Hearts
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Dancing. It moves the body, uplifts the fallen neshama and clears the mind. Like the Sufi spinning in accord with the constellations, Israeli dance captures a small piece of the universe within a small space for a unique period of time. If Shabbat is a Temple in Time, as Abraham Joshua Heschel famously stated, then Dance is the Discipline of the Priests.

It is clear that we are called upon to be Dancers. In Hebrew, there are no fewer than 11 words for dance – Leap! (Dalag), Whirl! (Karar) and the catch all Dance! (Raqad). We should also Alats, Giyl, Pacach, Pazaz, Chagag, Mechowlah, Machowl, and Chiyl – Twist, Whirl, Circle Dance, Dance in Company, March in Procession, Jump, Leap, Skip, Spring, Hop, Skip, Spin under the influence of joy and triumph. Yes, we should dance…we should dance our tuchuses off.

And yet, for many of us, our sedentary society has created an exilic experience with dance. When presented with a dance floor, we feel dis-ease, resistance, malaise. It is as if the barrier of entry for such a flat plain were as high as Mt. Meron.

Well, it’s time to change all of that.

Open Temple is excited to partner with Israeli Dance Choreographer and Instructor David Dassa. David is a living treasure, and the son of living legend Danny Dassa. As David explained to me one recent morning at Zinque, “there are about five dancers around the world who make their living teaching Israeli dance, and I am lucky to be one of them.” David converts the uninitiated into an Israeli dancing machine, leaving community and joy in his wake. Just look at the photo, above.  Everyone dancing is smiling.

Open Temple’s core values are Creativity, Love and Truth. We believe that creativity engages all of us in something greater than ourselves. This week’s Torah portion is clear – every one of us has an offering of the heart that only we can give – and in exchange, we will experience Transcendence. The creation of a spiritual community is a covenantal relationship that promises to bring us to life. And at Open Temple, we do that – through the Art of Judaism, Music, Dance, Performance Art and the Word. Verse 25:8 in Parshat Terumah invites us to: “Asu li Mikdash v’shanti b’tocham” – Build for me a Holy Space so I may Dwell Amongst You.”

Open Temple continues to build this Holy Space as an open temple – in our hearts, in our homes, in our community. And through this opening, the Force of Life enters into us, animating us with the life force – what the Torah describes as Godliness – of what it means to be alive.  This same force opens our hearts towards acts of loving kindness, it activates the mind towards positive thought, it is the force of human potential for us to enact upon. And all that it takes is that first step.

Come, Dance with Us.

with love and Torah light,
Rabbi Lori

On the Road…

Traveling in the Negev on Road 40.

On the Road…
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

T’filat HaDerekh, or “Wayfarer’s Prayer” is the prayer we say upon setting off on a journey. It is a prayer of comfort that acknowledges “Hey, G?d, I’m going on this journey and I want you to know about it…the rest is up to me.”  We ask for protection as we are about to leave the city limits and beyond.  It is said once a day, to be repeated after sunset if the journey begins at that time.

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, is one of the source texts for this prayer. In Exodus 23:20 God states:

הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י שֹׁלֵ֤חַ מַלְאָךְ֙ לְפָנֶ֔יךָ לִשְׁמָרְךָ֖ בַּדָּ֑רֶךְ וְלַהֲבִ֣יאֲךָ֔ אֶל־הַמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁ֥ר הֲכִנֹֽתִי׃

“I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready.”

[pull record needle off of record and make skid sound]

“Uh – Angel?”

I recall a practical rabbinics class one winter day in 2005 when a colleague of mine presented a case of a congregant who only wanted to talk about angels. Our rabbinic supervisor responded, “well, you know that you can’t permit her at the synagogue if she is going to talk about angels. You need to tell her that she can not talk about angels and that if she continues to lead the conversation in that direction that she is not invited back.”

It was winter, but that was not why I felt chilled. I could not believe what I was hearing. If the Torah so clearly mentions Malach” – which is translated as a messenger, or angel – why couldn’t congregants discuss this concept, which has its roots in the Torah?  Or, even more radical – why can’t someone believe in a angels if they choose to?

“We are NOT the people of the book; we are the people of the interpretation of the book.”

These words echo in my mind. Ours is an interpretive journey. Torah is a state of mind, of interpretation, of intellectual and spiritual curiosity. Concepts such as angels, a pavement of sapphire in the sky, knowing through doing…” all of these ideas find their way into this week’s Torah portion.  Known as a list of “case laws,” Parshat Mishpatim is the hidden truth of Torah – read it literally, and it is a collection of dos and don’ts. Read it with interpretive power, and it sets the mind and body ablaze.

Look for angels in our lives…sensitize ourselves to fully inhale a sunset…break our hearts open each time we see a man or woman with a sign at a stop light.  The laws of Torah are to arouse our humanity and dignity; not stymie them.

Torah is to be interpreted, challenged, embodied and lived through our hearts, our hands and our ability to experience empathy.  And like the sapphire path above the Israelite’s heads at the closing of the Torah portion, the sky is the limit.

Fly, Angels.


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: info@opentemple.org

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,

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.