Congregation Beth El–Keser Israel

85 Harrison Street, New Haven, CT 06515-1724 | P: 203.389.2108 |

Our banner is based on BEKI’s stained glass, designed in 2008 by Cynthia Beth Rubin. For information on this and other of Cynthia’s work, go to: <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Artisan Fabrication by JC Glass of Branford, CT
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Parashat Pequdei

Posted on March 13, 2016

Oren Bruce DT Pequdei 5776

Parashat DeMidbar Devar Torah

Posted on July 29, 2014

Shabbat Shalom. I feel very privileged to be able to celebrate with Darryl and with all of you this “milestone” anniversary of Darryl becoming a Bat-Mitzvah. Of course, this is, in part, a personal celebration for her, for our family and friends and our community. We look forward to your all joining us in the Continue Reading »

Parashat Huqat Devar Torah

Posted on July 29, 2014

Chadesh yimenu k’kedem Renew our days as of old. There’s an inherent contradiction there: Make our days new like the old times. How do we reconcile that tension? Over the years I’ve thought Of many different things When I say those words, Many different ways of thinking About the old days through which We will Continue Reading »

Parashat Toldot Devar Torah

Posted on July 28, 2014

V’eyleh toldot Yitzchok ben Avraham, are the first words of this parshah. “This is the story of Isaac son of Abraham,” Etz Chayim translates it. But just a few verses back there’s an identical line with just the name changed, v’eyleh toldot Yishmael ben Avraham, which Etz Chayim translates as “This is the line of Continue Reading »

Parashat Matot

Posted on July 28, 2014

Shabbat shalom. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to stand here today to share some thoughts with you as I prepare to move to Boston, where two of my sons and both of my granddaughters live. The wonderful BEKI community has been my home for 15 years and I treasure the memories of all the Continue Reading »

Parashat Aharei Mot

Posted on July 28, 2014

Good morning and Shabbat Shalom.  First, I would just like to thank Jon‐Jay and the  Congregation for giving me the opportunity to speak this morning.  Thank you. Acharie mot; after the death…a grim title for this week’s parsha to be sure.  It recalls  the death of Aaron’s Sons in parsha sh’mini, who we are told here were killed because they “drew too close to the presence of the L‐rd.”  Now that’s harsh.  The earlier parsha tells us that G‐d kills the brothers because they “offered before the L‐rd alien fire, which G‐d had not enjoined upon them.”  Still, that’s pretty harsh.  Especially when you consider that what follows in this parsha are instructions for the Yom Kippur liturgy where an even more alien act is described, the dedication of a goat to Azazel. Azazel; simply to speak the name is said to evoke the entity to which it belongs.  This is, of course, to follow the tradition that Azazel is a goat‐demon or fallen divinity and not simply another name for the wilderness or a particularly rough mountain where the scapegoat was pushed to its death. In the apocryphal book of Enoch, G‐d commands that Azazel be bound by his hands and feet and thrown into the desert.  “Throw on him jagged and sharp stones, and cover him with darkness; and let him stay there forever, and cover his face, that he may not see light, and that on the great day of judgment he may be hurled into the fire.”  Now that’s really harsh. His crime?   Slightly worse perhaps than drawing too close to the L‐rd but still not, I think, deserving of such a grim fate; Azazel is said to have “taught men to make swords, daggers, shields and breastplates.”  After which came “bracelets, ornaments, the art of making up the eyes and beautifying the eyelids, and the most precious and choice stones, and all kinds of colored dyes.”  In other words Azazel brought with him sex and violence. Reading the condemnation of this poor creature evokes for me another passage more familiar, from Kabbalat Shabbat, “In the wilderness they tried and tested Me” Psalm 95 recalls, concluding “therefore in indignation did I vow they would never reach My land of peace and rest.”  Just like Azazel, condemned to the harsh wilderness of desert is the first generation of Israelites for trying the patients of G‐d. I’ve always found this passage so disturbing to read that I skip over it in my personal prayers.  To be utterly denied peace and rest for trying G‐d’s patients just seems so cruel, especially when you consider the trauma that this generation experienced while slaves in Egypt and during their exodus therefrom. In light of this passage one might reinterpret Azazel’s gifts to humanity in a less negative light.  Rather than as sex and violence, instead Azazel brings culture, aids in procreation, and provides a means of self‐defense in the harsh wilderness to which the Israelites had been condemned. In the Zohar, the central book of the Kabbalistic mystical tradition, it is mentioned in discussing Azazel that everything that exists is required, “both good and bad,” even the Angel of Death.  Which brings up another disturbing story that relates to the Holiday we are about to celebrate, Pesach, where the Egyptian firstborn are killed at G‐d’s behest.  Their crime?  Being the children of Egypt?  What possible crime could infants commit to deserve such a grim fate?  Moreover, what possible crime could their parents have committed to deserve such horrific violence?  Even their participation in the state instituted slavery, as cruel and harsh as it was, isn’t sufficient to warrant the death of innocent infants.  No crime is. The Zohar, in its initial discussion of this parsha remarks, “What does Hashem your Elohim require of you, but to fear.”  If this is the case that fear is the primary emotion that should be felt in reference to G‐d then these stories make it easy to be obedient.  Who in their right mind wouldn’t fear this G‐d?  We should be afraid because this G‐d is pretty darn scary.  Just ask Azazel. Of course we are called not only to fear G‐d but to love G‐d as well.  Not only to love, but to love with all that we are; with our heart, our body, and spirit.  And yet how can we achieve such love if fear is the foundational emotion?  In my experience fear doesn’t yield love, it, as Yoda warns, leads to anger and eventually to hatred. On Yom Kippur we read that Hashem is good and does good to all, sinner and saint Continue Reading »

Parashat Bereishit Devar Torah

Posted on July 26, 2014

Shabbat shalom. Thank you, Rabbi Tilsen. We’re lucky to have a rabbi who so generously shares the opportunity to offer a d’var on Breishit. Some of the parshahs of Leviticus I could understand. But Breishit? I’m also lucky to be able to offer this d’var on a Shabbat when we celebrate the beginning of Klara Continue Reading »

Parashat VaYishlah Devar Torah

Posted on July 26, 2014

For the past weeks (with the help of Dan Jacoby and Rabbi Tilsen) we have been following the story of Jacob, struggling to understand him, and wrestling with our feelings about his too often unattractive behavior. In today’s parashah Jacob has a transformative, watershed experience, one that signifies a turning point in his life. I Continue Reading »

Devar Torah for Parashat Lekh Lekha

Posted on July 24, 2014

Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion, Lekh Lekha, talks about Abraham’s physical and spiritual journey with Sarah. There are several interesting and useful stories; however, I, like the great poet Robert Frost, will be veering off of that path onto one less traveled. My chosen subject does not take up a huge part of this Continue Reading »

Message at the bar mitzva observance of brother Shai Winter

Posted on July 24, 2014

Shabbat Shalom. When a child reaches the age of mitzvot, he is expected to  follow the commandments and to hold greater responsibility in his life for taking care of himself and for making his own decisions. It is no challenge for Shai to distinguish between right and wrong, for he never does anything that he Continue Reading »