Rabbi Anne Brener

Rabbi Anne Brener

Ritual of Return: Parashat Matot-Masei (Numbers 30:2-36:13)

This double parasha brings us to the end of the book of Bemidbar. The Israelites stand at the edge of the Promised Land, following Moses\’ last military campaign. Before the people can leave the wilderness, the soldiers must go through rituals of purification. They must stay \”outside the camp for seven days.\” Everyone who has \”slain a person or touched a corpse shall purify himself\” (Numbers 31:19). This care for returning soldiers has relevance for today\’s veterans.

Dwelling in the land of dreams

I had a dream shortly after I arrived in Los Angeles in 1981 to study at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) School of Jewish Communal Service.

From Pain to Peace Parashat Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

“Remember the long way that YHVH your God made you travel in the wilderness these past 40 years, that he might test you, by hardships, to learn what is in your hearts: whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Prophecy vs. Ego

Shavuot, unlike many Jewish holidays, does not take place on the full moon. This celebration, when we study all night to commemorate receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, precedes the night of the moon’s peak brightness by about a week. So, along with the gift of Torah, we are given the two weeks of the moon’s greatest light for our Mount Sinai descent. This allows us to carefully examine our footing as we endeavor to decode each year’s revelation of Torah and affirm our Shavuot insights for “walking in God’s ways” and bringing holiness into the more quotidian world. Under the light of the Sivan moon, we ask ourselves whether the truths we have perceived are the voice of prophecy or self-serving assertions of our ego.

Becoming a Kingdom of Priests: Achrei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30)

I want to recruit you into an order to which all Jews belong: the Mamlechet Kohanim, the Kingdom of Priests. I begin my campaign as we read of Aaron, the priest, and the instructions given him when he is, according to 12th century commentator Nachmanides, “in the most severe stage of mourning,” a time of sadness when “the Holy Spirit does not manifest itself.”

Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)

I am on a deck, overlooking a redwood stand. The tall trees above me, I look down on lesser vegetation. I find myself eye level with a red-headed woodpecker as I revisit the warnings and the promises of Parashat Nitzavim.

When The Truth Is Found to Be Lies: The Coen Brothers’ Rorschach for Serious People

I learned about Jewish spirituality in a yoga class in 1971. I lay prone on the carpeted floor, relaxing after achieving the challenging bridge posture for the first time. I had thought that the pose’s name came from its shape: Lying on my back, I pushed my feet and hands into the floor until the trunk of my body rose in an arc that resembled a bridge. But as I regained equilibrium after the posture, I became uncertain about the name. As I lay there, I had the sense that the pose had enabled me to bridge the breach between the living and the dead, the holy and the profane, the body and the soul. Everything felt profoundly connected. I began to weep, and from my unconscious rose the words of the Shema. I chanted and lingered on the word echad (one). I lay there, my cells tingling, sensing the holy connection between all things. Like Job, I knew God in my flesh.

Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10)

I think of myself as a premature elder. I was initiated into an involuntary priesthood at a young age. Life presented me with a set of mandates that shaped my life in
ways I would never have chosen. Twice before my 24th birthday, I sat shiva. Those seven-day periods initiated me in an unbidden understanding of life’s fragility and preciousness. The wisdom of the elders fell upon me, like the blunt end of an ax, when I was still a relative girl.

Embrace the Dark, Then Light a Candle

Kislev, the month when we begin to light the candles of Chanukah, is the month that contains the year’s longest nights and shortest days. In Kislev we begin in darkness, like all of creation.


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