First Kabbalat Shabbat at CBI

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
July 6, 2018
First Kabbalat Shabbat at CBI St. Pete

Has anyone in this room seen the movie Finding Nemo? You can raise your hands. According to its wikipedia summary: “It tells the story of the overprotective ocellaris clownfish named Marlin who, along with a regal blue tang named Dory, searches for his abducted son Nemo all the way to Sydney Harbour. Along the way, Marlin learns to take risks and comes to terms with Nemo taking care of himself.” As we begin our odyssey together at CBI, I think about the many different journeys we take as we grow together. (

On Friday August 3, 2012, I began a journey. I will not finish that journey until Shabbat, January 4, 2020. With thousands of others around the world, I attempt to study, to read, to consider a page of Talmud per day. In this way, I connect myself to the chain of Jewish tradition, to our ancestors and to our descendents, and I get to see the wisdom and the challenges of the sages who came before us. This journey covers 2711 days and the same number of pages.

Another time (ok many other times) I will share some of the insights and fascinating stories from the Talmud, but tonight I want to speak about the process itself. For me it has been an essential lesson in failure. Yes, failure. Making my parents proud, I was an excellent student from Kindergarten through Rabbinical School. My parents have boxes of my papers in their basement if you want the records. Graduating at the top of every class, I really did not know what failure was--except in PE--thankfully there participation counted since if it was chase the dreidel, the dreidel would end up chasing me.

Trying to keep up with daf yomi is sometimes like a steamroller running you over. You miss a day or five and it is almost impossible to catch up. You have a choice, go backwards, or go forwards. For a very long time, I would always go backwards. I would try desperately to fix the missing pages and catch up. Eventually I learned, sometimes you have to remember your goals, you have to just keep plugging along. You have to jump back on the train! You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and just keep going.

As we begin our journey together, we are going to have to keep plugging along. It’s an old line, but we are not running a sprint, we are running a marathon. The story of the Jewish people is not told in seasons, but in generations. Most of the time things are going to be amazing. We have an incredible community here. People really have each other’s backs. I see the spirit of collaboration, of how people help one another. I see the kindness, the warmth, the joy. At the same time, things will happen. We will have some hiccups and miscommunications, but I know that we will thrive through it. We will just keep moving along. As Dory says in Finding Nemo “Just keep swimming/Everything will be okay/See?/Just keep swimming/Move your tail/And sure enough we'll find our way/Oh sometimes things look bad/Then poof! The moment is gone/And what do we do?--Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”

Yet as we go along our journey, we have to know that we are going the right way, that we are on the right path. Tomorrow morning’s haftorah is from the opening of the book of Jeremiah. It includes his call, God saying to him that HE is the prophet who is needed RIGHT NOW.
וַיְהִ֥י דְבַר־יְהוָ֖ה אֵלַ֥י לֵאמֹֽר׃

The word of the LORD came to me:
בְּטֶ֨רֶם אצורך [אֶצָּרְךָ֤] בַבֶּ֙טֶן֙ יְדַעְתִּ֔יךָ וּבְטֶ֛רֶם תֵּצֵ֥א מֵרֶ֖חֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּ֑יךָ נָבִ֥יא לַגּוֹיִ֖ם נְתַתִּֽיךָ׃

Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; Before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations. (source:

How often do we hear that? How often do we know that we are in the right place? Yet WE ARE. We are here, together, tonight. We are exactly where we need to be. I truly feel that no matter the petty frustrations of life, coming together here is a sacred and essential action. We are helping mend the fabric of the universe. We are healing our souls. We are bringing peace into a fractured world. That is a lot from taking some time and singing a few songs! But cosmically, personally, spiritually, mystically, we are doing great things.

I will make one mention from Daf Yomi and then close

Yesterday started the beginning of chapter 9 of Zevachim. This is a tractate of Talmud that is about bird sacrifices. Honestly, I have found it one of the least interesting sections of Talmud I have tried to study in the last several years. However, even amidst the challenges of this section, there are moments of inspiration.

רבי יהושע אומר כל הראוי לאישים אם עלה לא ירד

Rabbi Yehoshua says: Any item that is suited to be consumed by the fire on the altar, e.g., burnt offerings and the sacrificial portions of other offerings, which are burned on the altar, if it ascended upon the altar, even if it is disqualified from being sacrificed ab initio, it shall not descend.

There is a concept in Jewish law called maalin bakodesh, that we only go up in holiness. It is a conversation we have around Hanukkah, when we light those candles. Very briefly, the school of Hillel said that we must always increase the light, whereas Shammi said we should emulate the sacrifices of Sukkot and decrease each day. We listen to Hillel because Hillel taught both his school’s opinion and reasoning AND the school of Shammai’s. It is a particularly prescient text today, when so rarely do we hear more than one side of an argument discussed rationally.

In short, in the years to come, I pray that we will always speak to one other respectfully, that we will see the best in one another, that we will just keep swimming, and that we will always increase in holiness. In this way, we will find success together at CBI, in St. Pete and in the broader world. Shabbat Shalom