High Holy Days News

Creation: Fed up with Tohu

I am honored and excited to be the new editor at the CCAR Press. Under the leadership of Rabbi Hara Person, I will be listening to your ideas, reading what your write, and working with you to create books, apps, and online learning opportunities!

Think about me as your editor, liturgist, and teacher.

As I did for the last six years, I will spend the upcoming High Holidays at a JCC in Chevy Chase-Bethesda, Maryland, where I work as a cantorial soloist. Each year, I deliver the sermon on Erev Rosh haShanah. This is a snippet of the (oh, too many words) I am going to share on that Bimah:


I, personally, try to laugh that laughter more often these days. It’s a laughter that is forgiving towards myself, towards the human beings around me, and towards this entire mess of our chaotic world. I try to internalize that all we have is a little Torah (a book written after all,  on the skin of a dead cow) in order to help us figure out together the nature of this mystical creation, and write together the Torah of our lives, Torat Hayim, the Torah of Life, a living Torah.

In other moments, I, like so many others, grow impatient, and then I write poems (S. Pilz (2018): Creation. Unpublished.) like this one:

Creation: Fed up with Tohu

What if in the beginning
Something did get consumed?
With black coal a universe got written
Dancing, twisting, whimpering, crawling,
What if in the beginning,
Something was broken.

You and I, we shine together.

What if we were to learn
How to calmly tame our fire?
Will we then crush gently,
And rise,
With a kiss?


Most of our time on earth, it seems to me, gets spent trying to figure out how to live this life right here and now. We are getting used to ourselves and to others. We build relationships, co-creating our own entire little universes. This way, all of us re-create and change the world in every single second. This, now, is a moment when the world gets re-created by us. And now. At every single moment of our lives.

And in these moments, as all of us are sitting here together, creating a universe of prayer, Torah, singing, learning, the order of prayer, reflection, and beauty, I want to share yet another poem with you, a second poem by the American writer Mary Oliver (M. Oliver (1992): New and Selected Poems, from “The Summer Day”, p. 94.) who wrote the poem with which I opened my sermon:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz earned a doctorate from the department of Rabbinic Literature at Potsdam University, Germany; she holds Rabbinic Ordination from Abraham Geiger College, Germany. Prior to joining the CCAR Press as editor, Sonja taught Jewish liturgy, worship, and ritual at HUC-JIR, NY; the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University; and in many congregational settings. She served as a visiting rabbi and cantorial soloist in congregations in Germany, Switzerland, Israel, and the US.


Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation

“Creation has us consider who we are at our most fundamental.” These words, in Rabbi Benjamin David’s introduction to his anthology, Seven Days, Many Voices, sets the stage for a book which is about fundamentals, but not at all fundamentalist.

As reflected in the title, this anthology sets out to include a variety of voices interpreting the seven days of creation, as recounted in the book of Genesis. Most, but not all, of these voices come from a Reform Jewish perspective; similarly, most, but not all, are written by clergy. There are a total of forty-two essays (perhaps a nod to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?), comprised of six essays in each of seven sections.

In keeping with David’s modern and liberal approach, the book is no enemy of science. In fact, it includes in its pages strong arguments for reading the seven days of creation, as recounted in Genesis, using a scientific lens. This is not revolutionary, but it is done here with depth. Consider, for instance, Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman’s essay on using scientific metaphors in theology, referring to the One God of the Shema as “Adonai the Singularity” (p.35), or Loui Dobin’s piece on the physics of Jewish time.

A number of essays in this anthology have stand-alone value. I was particularly struck by Rabbi Jill Maderer’s essay on the meaning of celebrating festivals at their designated times (rather than when it is convenient). Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb contributes a comprehensive article on the principle of bal tashchit (not wasting) – replete with “fanciful divine diary entries” giving insight into God’s reflections on the very busy third day of creation (p.114f); similarly, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz gives a Jewish perspective on the rights of animals. Cantor Ellen Dreskin adds an important perspective in her piece on music and time, which speaks of “the crumbs of the melodies of our lives” in a way that is evocative of a Yizkor reflection (p.181).

Two essays also stand out for their intellectual originality and sophistication. One is Rabbi Oren Hayon’s essay suggesting that creation is “the first phase of God’s project of establishing justice on earth” (p.4), in which he compares the wind over the waters in Genesis to God splitting the sea in Exodus. Another is Dr. Alyssa Gray’s argument that the Mishnah, like the biblical creation, is an acknowledgment of an existential rupture – but that, unlike in Genesis, the rabbinic re-creation after the destruction of the Temple is the product of human hands.

Most impressive is the overall range of perspectives. The section on the second day of creation, for example, contains a pilot’s perspective on the division between heaven and earth (Rabbi Aaron Panken); the metaphor of God as homemaker, constraining chaos with order (Rabbi Mira Beth Wasserman); reflections on prayers in the swimming pool (Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon); meditations on star-gazing, in the desert and at summer camp (Rabbi Scott Nagel); an argument for water conservation (Rabbi Kevin Kleinman); and a description of the sacred potential of mikvah (Shaina Herring and Rabbi Sara Luria). Also notable is the range of essays on the seventh day of creation. As a congregational rabbi, I was especially moved by Rabbi Benjamin David’s piece on Shabbat and parenting, and Rabbi Richard Address’ reflections on Shabbat and aging. Rabbi Address’ question stays with the reader, interweaving the existence of the world with the existence of the self: “This is the great religious concern: How do I bring meaning to the time that I have?” (p.292).

There is some repetition between the essays, which is a challenge inherent in this kind of collection. Environmentalism, as one would expect, makes frequent appearances. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is cited numerous times, leaving Pope Francis as a distant (but still noteworthy) second. One wonders whether the authors could have reached for a greater theological range; it is perhaps surprising that Rabbi Eugene Borowitz’s covenant theology does not make more of an appearance (with the notable exception of Rabbi Jack Paskoff’s essay on the meta-ethics of Shabbat); feminist theologians are likewise lacking, though there is a good mix of genders among contributors.

I would have loved to have seen the inclusion of poetic interpretation – as we find in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary – to add an extra layer of meaning. However, the anthology as it stands provides a rich resource for individuals and study groups alike. Rabbi David speaks in his introduction of approaching his topic with great curiosity. Perhaps its greatest virtue is to leave the reader newly curious about one of our oldest stories.

Rabbi Lisa J. Grushcow, D.Phil. serves Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Montreal. 

Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation  is now available to order from CCAR Press.

High Holy Days Holiday

A Rosh HaShanah Reflection on Birth and Possibility

I love asking my kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because I am always so enamored and tickled with their answers.  One wants to be a policeman, a fireman, a goalie for the Rangers and a professional soccer player—and maybe a basketball player—all at the same time.  Another wants to be a thunderstorm (really!) or maybe one of the Beatles.  And the earnestness, with which they answer me, always cuts right to the core.  My kids, like most children, dream in Technicolor, believing they can do most anything and be most anyone.  There are no limits they cannot overcome, no voices casting doubt on their glorious reveries; they just dream big and wide and free.

What would it take for us to dream those dreams?  What would inspire us to set our sights higher than the sky?  How might we learn to open ourselves up rather than close ourselves off? Emily Dickinson once wrote, “I dwell in possibility;” and while I am certain our children dwell there too, do we?

On Rosh Hashanah, we do.  On Rosh Hashanah, we are beckoned to that Dwelling Place, urged to step in and experience the wonder of limitless possibility.  We call this day Hayom Harat Olam– the day the world “burst into being.” [1] This is the day of the world’s beginning, but it marks our beginning as well.  On this day there is no telling what we can do or who we can become; our potential is endless, limited only by the stretch of our own imagination.

Indeed, this is our day– to create, to renew, to repair. Yes, this is our day to pave new paths, to chart new courses, to begin again. It is Rosh Hashanah, (after all,) Hayom Harat Olam, a consecration of birth itself.

Our Tradition claims that Adam was born this day,[2] along with Isaac and Samuel.[3]  Some even add Sarah and Joseph to the list as well.  This also is said to be the day when our ancestors were freed from Egypt, the day a new nation was born.

Creation is not an end, we learn, but a beginning.[4] This day is not only about cataloguing the birth stories of our history; it is about catalyzing these beginnings in our own lives. Against this incredible tapestry of birth, we stand poised to write our own stories of renewal.

In our highly rational world, the cycle of life still remains a pristine miracle.  How does a tiny seed become a mighty tree?  And how does the lowly caterpillar turn into the majestic butterfly?  It’s a delicious mystery that we are privy to, each and every day.

In birth, we bear witness to a marvel far beyond our comprehension. In birth we are granted a taste of the Divine.  For with every new life, another element of God’s blueprint is revealed.  And with every new life, the order of the world shifts and a new equilibrium is formed.  In a single moment, everything can change, and everything does.

Creation, we learn, is ongoing. As the Hasidic teacher Simhah Bunam of Poland, describes it: “God created the world in a permanent state of reishit, beginning.

The world is always incomplete. Continuous creative effort is needed to renew the world, to keep it from sinking again into primeval chaos.”[5]

Thus we understand why birth is so present during these days of Awe.  We are the agents of God’s handiwork on this earth, constantly implementing pieces of God’s design with every creative act we perform. We are participants in the act of Creation.

We are responsible for executing God’s master plan.

Birth is no longer a privilege; it is a mandate.  We are empowered to create life, to generate ideas, to revitalize ourselves.   We are given the opportunity to forge new paths and rebuild broken friendships.  This is our time to contribute to the world around us, and renew the life that God implanted within and among us, so very long ago.

We learn that the [Holy blessed One] said to Israel:  “Remake yourselves by repentance during the ten days between New Year’s Day and the Day of Atonement.  And on the Day of Atonement, I will hold you guiltless, regarding you as a newly made creature.”[6]

My friend once called birth “the sound of a gun at the beginning of a marathon….”[7] The gun has just fired.  As we commence the Ten Days of Awe, our journey begins. How will we renew ourselves during this time?   What will we contribute to the cycle of creation?   How will we emerge when these days of Repentance are through?

Let us feel encouraged by the limitless potential the High Holidays bring.  If there ever were a time to stretch ourselves, it is now.  If there ever were a time to grow, it is now. God is most accessible to us right now, during these Days of Awe.

We are shareholders in this world that God has created. God is our partner in the work we do.  HaYom Harat Olam- Now is the time to continue God’s sacred vision of creation.

L’Shana Tova U’Metukah!

Rabbi Sara Sapadin serves Temple Emanu-El in New York City as Adjunct Rabbi.


[1] Rabbi Alan Lew. This Is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, p. 116

[2] Vayikra Rabbah, 29:1

[3], August 12

[4] Rabbi Malka Drucker,

[5] quoted in Kol Haneshamah: Prayerbook for the Days of Awe, p. 492

[6] Pesikta Rabbati 40:5

[7] Edi Nelson



Total Solar Eclipse

As most of us know quite well, today (Monday, August 21st) there will be a rare event in our country: a total solar eclipse. In short, the moon will “photobomb” the sun’s selfie. I recently wrote a chapter in the new book Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation that speaks  about the relationship between the sun and the moon. In chapter one of Genesis (verse 16) we read: “And God made two great lights; the large light to rule the day, and the small light to rule the night; and God made the stars.” There seems to be a contradiction here.  If God made two great lights, then how can one be large and one be small?  Many Jewish commentators address this apparent irregularity.  One comment from an ancient midrash sees a moral lesson within the disparity.  The moon complained to God that it did not like being the same size as the sun, so God “rewarded” the moon’s complaint by making it smaller.

A more favorable treatment of the moon is found in Midrash Genesis Rabbah, 6:4:  R. Aha said: Imagine a king who had two governors, one ruling in the city and the other in a province. Said the king: Since the former has humbled himself to rule in the city only, I decree that whenever he goes out, the city council and the people shall go out with him, and whenever he enters, the city council and the people shall enter with him. Thus did the Holy One, blessed be He, say: Since the moon humbled itself to rule by night, I decree that when she comes forth, the stars shall come forth with her, and when she goes in [disappears], the stars shall go in with her.

This teaching reflects an ancient rabbinic support for humility in our leaders.  As another sage (Hillel) once observed: “When I exalt myself I am humbled, but when I humble myself I am exalted.”   It is only when we create space for the world that we are able to find our genuine selves.  The medieval mystical notion of tzimtzum, or contraction, by which God could create the world only by contracting God’s Self, teaches us the spiritual power of creating space within our own egos for the world around us.  By letting go of some of the ego needs that distract us we open space for enjoying the present and being more present for others.

I know these days we can easily be frustrated, worried and even fearful. There are certainly many things we can do about our current situation. One thing we may not have considered is practicing more humility in our family, circle of friends, and areas of work. This practice will not solve all our problems but it can serve as a timely corrective in a world too eclipsed for the light to shine through.

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, serves Temple Sholom of Chicago, and is the editor of Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor, and coordinating editor of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.  Rabbi Goldberg  is also is a contributor to CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation!


Who Is Wise? One Who Learns From All.

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, we’ve invited several of the book’s contributors to share excerpts from the book. The book is now officially available to order!

The opening words of the Torah are iconic, and they mark the start of an iconic narrative, namely the Torah’s account of how God created our world. Centuries later, these words continue to carry power and resonate broadly. However, those first six days, presented twice in Genesis, tell of much more than the beginning of day and night, skies and seas, animals of earth and air; they provide us with a touchstone to return to once and again over the course of our lives. When we dare to investigate the intricacies of the Creation text we come to see not only ourselves, but the imperatives with which we live as Jews: to care for the natural universe, to take responsibility for ourselves and those around us, to lift up the Sabbath as a holy day, and to always remember our ever-profound origins.

We might also argue that never before have there been greater misgivings regarding Creation. At a time when considerable skepticism is aimed at religious institutions and tradition at large, the early chapters of Genesis are easily cast aside as antiquated, even irrelevant. And yet, even when placed beside the realities of scientific discovery and evolution, those chapters remind us in the most succinct fashion of precisely what is so ennobling regarding religion and religious life: ritual, poetry, coexistence, tradition, and the underlying belief so many of us carry in a benevolent Creator manifest in our daily lives. It is true that if the Creation story is going to withstand the test of time, it is not only because of its literary prowess and magnitude, but because it consistently renews our commitment to faith itself.

In an age of dire pace and frenzied obsession with technology, holding fast to our beginnings matters greatly, for us and our children. Rather than fixate forever on what’s next, and whose social media status garners greatest attention, Creation has us consider who we are at our most fundamental. They are verses to which we are meant to pay attention.

Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, a new publication from CCAR Press, started as a mere idea three years ago.  It has now become a very exciting reality.  When I proposed a book that would explore the great range of thought around the Torah’s Creation stories, I never imagined the far-reaching scope achieved by the nearly fifty essays.  Indeed, included in this collection are the diverse perspectives of awe-inspiring colleagues and teachers, each of whom have wrestled with Creation in their own right.  The end result is an anthology that captures the layers and complexities of Creation in new and fascinating ways.  At the start of this project I believed, and still believe, that we honor Creation most when we allow ourselves to see it in the most complicated light, rather than rushing to simplified, easy readings.

The book’s contributors challenge many of the common conceptions around Creation. They urge readers to see Creation not only as a story about how God formed our world in six days, but what it means to have faith, what it means to be a Jewish parent, what it means to care for the environment, what it means to protect the most vulnerable among us, what it means to think deeply about gender and sexuality, and what it means to observe Shabbat.

I am proud to align myself with a community that allows for and encourages diversity of thought.  To include authors that span the ideological spectrum within one anthology, sometimes in near total opposition to one another, speaks to the adage from the Mishnah: “Who is wise?  One who learns from all.” Perhaps one of the great victories of this book, therefore, is that it reminds us to learn from those not altogether like ourselves.

Rabbi Benjamin David serves Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, New Jersey.  Rabbi David is also the Editor of CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, now available to order.


Male and Female God Created Them: The Everyday Life of the Creation Myth in Israeli Society

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, we’ve invited several of the book’s contributors to share excerpts from the book. The book is now officially available from CCAR Press. 

“So God created the human beings in [the divine] image, creating [them] in the image of God, creating them male and female.”  (Genesis 1:27)

Every society for which there are records has its version of a Creation myth. These myths serve as important allegories and help the society tell its own story. They present a microcosm of society, of the way men and women relate to one another, and of the place of humans in the world of nature. It is essential that we understand the values projected in creation myths in order to transform power imbalances.

While Jewish tradition has several Creation stories, I will focus on the ways in which the Creation story in Genesis 2 establishes the patriarchal order of our Jewish history. Plants could not grow because man was not there to till the ground, which is why God created the mist to water the earth, and man to cultivate it. Following the creation of the garden, plants, and rivers, God guides man around the Garden of Eden and instructs him on cultivating and keeping the earth.  God then creates all the animals to help man and save man from being alone. Man sees and names them and finds no help through them.  So, God creates woman from man’s rib. According to this story, man has an essential role in Creation, designated to him by God. The entire plant and animal kingdom is dependent on man, while woman is created to support man’s welfare.

After eating from the Tree of All Knowledge, Adam and Eve become aware of duality (which had been not present before) and man and woman realize they’re different. God and man then come into conflict, as they, too, are different. In that conflict, woman (paired with nature) is the cause of the first sin. Knowledge therefore comes not only out of the realization of good and evil, but also out of the differences between male and female.

This paradigm led to the establishment of a Jewish society in which women could exist and function only in relation to their fathers, husbands, sons, or brothers. The paradigm has also led to the evolution of two separate sets of rules within our halachic systems, excluding women from all religious leadership roles, from major events within the Jewish community, and from the close and intimate disciplines of religious practice that are related to time and season.

This duality echoes another element of the Creation story, which is the connection between women and knowledge. In the story of Creation, the “basic” state of man is one of ignorance. He is commanded to refrain from eating from the fruits of the Tree of All Knowledge (Gen. 2:16–17). The only limitation placed on man is the restriction of knowledge. Woman (being tricked by the snake) tempts man to eat from the fruit, committing the first sin, and shattering his divine-intended ignorance.

In Israeli society today, religious and political rhetoric perpetuate this particularly misogynistic reading of sin, knowledge, and gender roles. Since 1999, there have been repeated demands made by members of the ultra-Orthodox leadership (the fastest growing community in Israel, averaging 6.9 children per family) to segregate men and women in the public sphere in Israel. These demands, following a decade of work by the Israel Religious Action Center, are now, thankfully, being rejected by the Israeli government. Beyond their lobbying, ultra-Orthodoxy’s social structures prevent adults from leaving the closed society through a gender-segregated school system that deprives boys of the educational tools that would enable them to sustain themselves and lead lives outside the ultra-Orthodox world.  Through the political pressure of ultra-Orthodox parties, the Israeli government sponsors such schools that in essence teach only traditional Jewish studies. Since the late 1990s, in order to support their growing society, ultra-Orthodox women have been leading a quiet revolution. They are lawyers, accountants, and software engineers. They are more educated and are earning more money than ever before.

We in Israel therefore find ourselves living with the Creation metaphor as an everyday reality: Man in a primal state, connected to God, and woman holding the forbidden fruit of knowledge, thus threatening the innocence of man. This ongoing reenactment of the Creation story is a major threat to the future of Israel. Twenty-seven percent of Israeli boys in first grade study in a public educational system that ostensibly sentences them to a life of poverty and binds them to the ultra- Orthodox community. As we continue to lead the legal and political struggle to improve the education of ultra-Orthodox boys, we need to both recognize the elements of our tradition that provide support for the current situation, as well as utilize the various traditional responses to support knowledge, education, and gender equality.

Rabbi Noa Sattath is the a contributor to CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, now available!

Rabbi Noa Sattath is also the Director of Israel Religious Action Center, the social justice arm of the Reform movement in Israel. She is charged with leading the staff of the organization, developing and implementing social change strategies in the fields of separation of religion and state, women’s rights, and the struggle against racism. 


The Animal Kingdom

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, we’ve invited several of the book’s contributors to share excerpts from the book. The book is now officially available from CCAR Press. 

In all of Jewish tradition, the mitzvah of shiluach hakein—the commandment to send away the mother bird before taking the egg—is the most seemingly eccentric and confusing. To the enterprising mind, however, this supposedly ethical dilemma of shiluach hakein underlies the divine enterprise that the Creation story presents to humanity.

On that point, the fifth day of Creation presents the Jewish people with an overarching moral quandary. As we will discern, the universe would not be complete without the diversity of the fauna that roams upon the lands. The totality of Torah articulates a myriad of responsibilities that humans have for animals. These responsibilities are intertwined with opportunities for the cultivation of Jewish values. Perhaps the premier mechanism to cultivate reverence for the wondrous multiplicity of Creation is to avoid eating God’s creatures altogether.

Indeed, vegetarianism/veganism—and Jewish awareness toward the overarching umbrella of animal welfare—is the most dynamic and growing trend in the American Jewish community and has been for the past few decades. Yet, the biblical text presents us with a conundrum. In the latter part of the Creation story, humans are told they “shall hold sway over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, over the beasts, over all the earth, over all that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26). This seems to be in contradiction to the human obligation to emulate God’s ways and be “good to all” (Psalm 145:9). How could the consumption of God’s creatures be commensurate with the duty to uphold mercy?

The biblical history of animal consumption experienced three distinct eras. In the Garden of Eden humans did not consume animals. After the Great Deluge[1] and construction of the ark, God perceived the violent nature of humans and thus permitted meat consumption as a concession so they would channel their violent nature to kill animals instead of people. Finally, we come to learn that after meat was only permitted as a sacrifice to God, it later became permitted as a more regular staple of diets outside of sacrificial worship. These three eras mark the progression of an admittedly supernal ideal and evolution of a certain religious pragmatism. Are we now in a fourth era, and in the position to consider the well-being and rights of animals as comparable to the basic rights that humans are privileged to hold?

Following this reasoning, a midrash explains that Moses was chosen as the leader and prophet for the Jewish people because of his consideration for animals.[2] It is not only the prophets and kings of Israel who are so often portrayed as compassionate shepherds; this is also a popular way of personifying God: “The Eternal is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). This value is also reflected in one of the best-known instances of animal protection in the Talmud: That we may not eat until we have fed our animals (BT B’rachot 40a).

The Torah states, “When…you say: ‘I shall eat some meat,’ for you have the urge to eat meat, you may eat meat whenever you wish” (Deuteronomy 12:20). A commentary in the Talmud goes even further, interpreting the verse from Deuteronomy to mean that “a person should not eat meat unless they have a special craving for it” (BT Chulin 84a).

Throughout the millennia, Jews have yearned to return to the Garden of Eden. The Creation story is not the story of the Jews, but of every creature that God found worthy to exist. By being compassionate to animals, we not only fulfill the mandate of the Torah, but we regain our humanity. In fact, the great sages of the Talmud consider mercy and compassion to be essential characteristics of being Jewish (BT Beitzah 32b). Choosing not to eat meat for ethical reasons has the power to imprint the values of mercy and compassion deep within our souls. From the lowliest microbe to the most complex being, all gain life from the same holy source.

When we arrive at the insight that the world was not created for us alone[3]—that the mother bird and her egg are precious to God— and that we are not entitled to consume whatever we wish, we reach a powerful Torah ideal, one that may be the most spiritual ideal of all. We share this beautiful world with a remarkable diversity of life. We are only one aspect of this biosphere.  And when we respect it for what it is, we venerate that which brought it forth from the far reaches of time and space.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is a contributor to CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, now available!

Rabbi Yanklowitz is also the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, and the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews.

[1] Also known as the Flood, seen later in Genesis 6–9.

[2] Sh’mot Rabbah 2:2.

[3] Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed 3:13.



Music and The Punctuation of Time

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, we’ve invited several of the book’s contributors to share excerpts from the book. The book is now officially available from CCAR Press. 

This is the story of a fourth day. From the mystery emerge years, seasons, nights and days, all with their own series of markers and movements in the sky. These patterns are the foundation upon which we build our lives. And because of the innate capacity for patterns to quickly progress from lovely routine to painfully boring rut, it is in reference to time, and specifically Shabbat, the seventh day, that we first engage with the word “holy” (kadosh) in Tanach. In order to make and take meaning from the random events of our lives, to vary the endless patterns, we must somehow mark one moment from the next, and also connect one moment to the next, in a way that makes sense over seasons, over years, over generations.

Music and time are inexorably intertwined.  Music that we see on a page is only a hard-copy representation of something that cannot exist without the passage of time. Music must move forward within the context of the passage of time, as must the planets and stars in their revolutions in the sky. The single notes, much like single stars, mean nothing unless connected to others.

The power of a single melody can send one hurtling back in time, and allow us to take others along. That’s the real meaning of the word “commemoration”: remembering together.  With a single melody, I can be transported, along with innumerable others, to another space and energy and emotional state. In this way, music helps us to both awaken to and immerse ourselves in special set times of celebration and commemoration, as well as to the k’doshim b’chol yom, the holiness inherent in every moment of every day. 

In their book Filling Words with Light: Hasidic and Mystical Reflections on Jewish Prayer, Rabbis Lawrence Kushner and Nehemiah Polen remind us that there were two splittings of seas in Tanach.[1] The Sea of Reeds story is one that we know quite well. Few, if any of us remember this second miraculous occurrence of Israelites crossing a sea on dry land, when “Adonai your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you crossed, just as the Adonai your God did to the Sea of Reeds, which God dried up before us until we crossed” (Joshua 4:23).[2]

Rabbis Kushner and Polen share with us, from the teachings of Itturei Torah,[3] that the reason that one story is paramount in our people’s faith formation and the other has fallen by the wayside is because of song. And when we sing Mi Chamocha we are taken back, each time, to when we emerged from slavery to freedom.

The presence of music and the ways in which it moves our spirits has the ability to change us, as well as whatever comes after.  It connects us to our deeper selves, gives us insight into our past, and reaffirms our commitment to action. It causes us to reflect on our connection to each other, as well as our deep emotions in the face of art and beauty and song. All of these blessings that music brings somehow coalesce in the function of music in our ritual lives.

All faith and secular cultures mark the passage of time with ritual. Can you imagine an important Jewish ritual or holiday celebration without music? Although they vary according to region and origin, the specific modes and melodies used at different times of the year have helped Jews over the centuries to celebrate the patterns of their lives. Our music connects us not only to our present-day communities, but to Jewish communities across the millennia. As older melodies are, over time, replaced by more contemporary sounds, we also merge our unique stories of the past with the story of the communities in which we presently live.

By paralleling and making us mindful of time—its patterns as well as its passage—music allows us to go far beyond the spoken word. By adorning and providing  context  for the  ways in which we travel under the  sun, moon,  and stars created  on the  fourth  day of Creation, music has the power  to open  our hearts  to that  which is “within  our reach, but beyond  our grasp,” according  to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.[4] Music connects us to any human who has ever looked to the patterns in the skies and celebrated with instrument, rhythm, and voice; it allows us to reach upward and inward, simultaneously touching our individual souls, our shared stories, and our stars.

Cantor Ellen Dreskin is a contributor to CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, now available!

Cantor Dreskin also serves as Coordinator of the Cantorial Certification Program at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at HUC-JIR in New York. Ellen travels extensively to congregations around the country as a scholar-in-residence, and has taught for many years on the faculty of URJ Summer Kallot, Hava Nashira, and the URJ Kutz Camp Leadership Academy.  


[1] Lawrence Kushner and Nehemia Polen, Filling Words with Light: Hasidic and Mys- tical Reflections on Jewish Prayer (Woodstock,  VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004),

[2] Adapted from JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publica- tion Society, 1999), 464.

[3] A. Chayn, Itturei Torah, ed. Aaron Jacob Greenberg  ( Jerusalem: Yavneh, 1987),


[4] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Vocation of the Cantor (New York: American Con- ference of Cantors, 1966).


The Third Day and Our Oceans

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, we’ve invited several of the book’s contributors to share excerpts from the book. The book is now officially available from CCAR Press.  

We are not told that we hold sway over the sea.

We are told that we hold sway over the animals. When God creates humankind, God grants dominion over the “fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over every animal that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

We are told that we may do what we like with the plants.  “These are yours to eat,” God says on the sixth day (Genesis 1:29).

Later, this relationship between human beings and vegetation is modified with the additional command l’ovdah ulshomrah, translated literally as “to work it and keep it,” and commonly known today as “to till and tend” (Genesis 2:15). Humankind is intended to take care of and partake in all animals and all plants.

Day three of the Creation story has two components. Before God established plants, God first collected the chaotic waters of the earth and designated these as “seas,” an area differentiated from “dry ground” (Genesis 1:9–10). The creation of each is concluded with a repetition of the central trope of Creation, “God saw how good it was” (Genesis 1:10).

These two acts of creation on one day create two parallel tracks for God’s contract with humankind as a partner in Creation. We are told that we hold sway over the animals. We are told that we may do what we like with the plants.

We are not told that we hold sway over the sea.

And yet, humankind has ruled over the seas. We have disrupted the boundary lines distinguishing sea from land. Whole populations will be displaced. Cities and states will be pulled underwater as the sea becomes entangled with dry ground. Further, rising sea levels are causing drinking water contamination and disruptions in agriculture, coastal plant life, and wildlife populations. In impacting the seas, we have also adversely affected life on dry land for humans, animals, and plants.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sea levels have risen approximately seven inches globally since 1900. Our industrial output of greenhouse gases has initiated global climate change and sea-level rise; we have failed to stay within the means of our God-given responsibilities. Climate change caused by human activity presents problems of an immense global scale with potentially infinite disruptive power. Rising global atmospheric temperatures in turn cause sea-level rise, disrupt ecosystems, limit crop viability, and lead to drought and extreme weather events. Many of our current international security and poverty crises can be traced back to these adverse climate change impacts.

These challenges have hopeful and plausible remedies. We can mitigate sea-level rise by investing in and advocating for the production and dissemination of clean energy technologies. Unlike clean energy’s fossil fuel counterparts, the mechanisms for extraction (solar panels and windmills) are not disruptive. While we cannot turn back the clock on climate change, it is within our power to ensure that the current impacts of sea-level rise are not dramatically worsened as we continue to use nonrenewable sources. We need only shift from greenhouse-gas-producing technologies to renewable energy in order to minimize our negative impact on the oceans.

On day three of Genesis, we read, “Let the waters beneath the sky be collected in one place, so that the dry ground may be seen!”—and so it was. And God called the dry ground Earth, and called the collected waters Seas. And…God saw how good it was” (Genesis 1:9–10).  As Jews, we can look at this passage, in both its description of separation and, later, our absence of active human obligation, to make the case for a Jewish response to climate change through renewable energy. By living up to our responsibilities on land, we can restore our seas. We can give back to them their autonomy as a space distinct from the dry ground. We must not hold sway over the seas.

We are at a crossroads in human history where we have gained rule over nature and have the responsibility and capacity to surrender that power. We have scientific evidence that we have created a problem. We have the global willpower to make the change. We are not told that we hold sway over the sea. We are told that God saw how it was. Now, we just need our energy industry and our policy-makers to catch up.

Liya Rechtman is a contributor to CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, now available!

Ms. Rechtman is also a Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar and Amherst College Graduate Fellow at Harvard Divinity School as a candidate for a Masters of Theological Studies with a concentration in religion, ethics, and politics. She previously served a consultant for the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, Manager of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and co-chair of the Washington Inter-religious Staff Council’s Energy and Environment Working Group.


The Second Day: A Pilot’s Perspective

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, we’ve invited several of the book’s contributors to share excerpts from the book. The book is now officially available from CCAR Press. 

The second day of Creation supplies the world with a new device never seen before: an “expanse” that separates two domains, the heavens and the waters, from one another. The original Hebrew rakia, “something that is beaten or stamped out,” is like a sheet of metal an artisan has flattened into a thin layer to divide one area from another. Portrayed here as decidedly solid, later in Genesis (7:11 and 8:2), we learn that rain can descend from the heavens through windows or sluices, offering the fascinating possibility of trans-expanse communication: water could come down, and in certain very rare instances, people could go up.

In the early days of postbiblical literature, the idea of human beings ascending to heaven to access hidden secrets was all the rage. Enoch, Elijah, Moses, and just a few other characters were granted such supernal experiences, succeeding in their desire to gain divine knowledge in a way that even the subsequent mythical Prometheus would have envied. As a rabbi and student of ancient texts, and a pilot, I admit to feeling a deep connection to these ancient ascent stories.  We moderns, who leap routinely heavenward in complex tubes of beaten metal with sophisticated machinery unimaginable to the premodern mind, are often pretty blasé about what it takes to leave the earth’s surface, climb a mile into thin air, and land a thousand miles distant.

Focus, for a moment, on the intense harmony that must be achieved by the unstintingly complex mechanism that is an aircraft; the balance between going above and returning to below. In the complexity of flight lies another expanse we must cross: the expanse of reaching for expertise. Bringing oneself squarely up against a challenging task one learns to perform is a vital part of being fully human. Flying is but one of these sorts of tasks. The truth is we become fully human when we commit our entire selves to something that is hard and worth doing, when we know our limits, and when we take pride in what we achieve.

One lesser known form of aviation is soaring, also known as gliding. In soaring, a powered aircraft tows you up from a grass runway to a few thousand feet over the airport, whereupon the engineless glider and pilot sail free to employ the air around them to remain aloft as long as possible. The harmony that results from diverse parts that function together suggests a oneness to the universe that is both human and beyond humanity, existing both below the expanse and above it at the same time. As a glider pilot, I have personally circled in rising columns of air with families of hawks, climbed over ten thousand feet in just a few minutes in strong thermal lift, and remained aloft for hours traveling miles and miles powered only by the air. To be able to understand clouds and wind, lift and sink, terrain and airflow well enough to do this makes me feel as if I have access to secret knowledge; as if I have, like an ancient, gone on an ascent to the heavens and returned with secrets that surpass regular humanity. Once one has soared, one can never quite look at clouds and the sky in the same way again. Each glance at sky above fills me with a deep and abiding sense of gratitude that God has created a world in which this is possible for mortal human beings.

For the remarkable ability to fly, with all its beautiful complexity, and for entrée to the secret knowledge of an aviator in the heavens above, I am profoundly thankful. The Creation story in Genesis reminds us, at its core, that God’s handiwork is a gift God shared with us, which implies a duty of care and an invitation to investigate. Safe inside beaten metal thousands of feet above our normal dwelling place, we effortlessly cross expanses unimaginable to our ancestors, learning and growing as we go. This gift of ascent within God’s Creation, whether literal or figurative, is one we can never fully repay.

Rabbi Aaron Panken is a contributor to CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation.  Rabbi Panken is also President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute (HUC-JIR), North America’s first Jewish seminary, with campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York.