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Torah

Time to Rest and Recharge–It’s Shabbat

 

Our country, our world, is in turmoil. Protests, both peaceful and destructive, are on the rise right along with the surge of coronavirus. The days are stressful and confusing, and many people are sick and suffering. The good– people of all races, colors, religions, and generations are unifying and standing up for racial equality, social justice, and policy reform. The bad–government and police struggle to maintain control, while malicious radicals take advantage of the chaos. While people are coming together, there is still much division, anger, and emotion tearing us apart. We need law and order to live in a free society, but how we get there remains an elusive ethical dilemma one of the many themes of this week’s Parshat Behaalotcha.

We have a long way to go. but the conversation is started, and there is hope. And there is Shabbat.

In the famous words of Ahad Ha’am, founder of cultural Zionism:  “More than the Jewish People have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

Shabbat does not make any of the pain go away, but rather a brief period of time to rest and recharge so we can forge ahead in the next week with a renewed engergy and purpose. Shabbat has sustained the Jewish people since the beginning of time,  allowing us to turn down the chaos and turn on our connection to God. When life around us seems so out of control, Shabbat is the one constant. The strike of a match that begins and ends Shabbat is the light that permeates the darkness and helps us see things clearer and with greater understanding.

And from Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of the Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa and founder of the Shabbat Project,  “Whatever Jews have gone through or are dealing with today, Shabbat is a reminder that for a 25-hour period, there is a need to disconnect from the world, reintegrate with family, be part of a community, and connect with God.”

On Friday nights, my son usually comes over for dinner and stays overnight, and I make a special meal and of course challah. I even pour grape juice into a purple glass decanter for my husband (wine gives him a stomachache).  After the last bite of fudge brownie for dessert, my son and I sometimes venture into the living room, which I call the “Shabbat Parlor,” and we casually talk about the Torah portion while my toy poodle Beau snuggles contently on my lap. At some point in the night, Jack goes for a walk on his own to the common ground down the street. The moon hangs in the sky and there is a quietness in the air except maybe sounds of crickets and a croaking toad. This is where Jack comes to pray, joined only by a deer grazing nearby. I call it “davening in the corn field.”

During Shabbat, Jack shares what he learned from the commentaries of some of his favorite Rabbi teachers, including Jonathan Sacks, David Wolpe and Rashi to name a few, while I usually rely on the summaries of Chana Weisberg’s Shabbat deLights or the many wonderful Zoom webinars from orthodox to reform, including Aish St. Louis and Congregation Shaare Emeth where I know the clergy personally. Sometimes we have our talks during our walks around the neighborhood, this is our uninterrupted time together, a safe place to share what’s on our minds. My husband and daughter prefer to do their own thing, and that’s OK, they are always welcome to join our deep conversations.

Even though currently we are not gathering in person in our communities because of coronavirus, there are many ways to stay connected, including Project Inspire, which allows Jews around the world to turn Friday night into Shabbat with inspirational speakers, musical performances, special guests, and even cooking demos to get us hungry for more.  I often tune into the one-hour program while I’m cutting up fruit or setting the table.

Shabbat has the most ancient roots in Judaism, but the universal message is more relevant than ever before. In the onslaught of modern technology, social media, and nonstop CNN, Shabbat gives us permission to turn off the noise and connect with God and our Jewish values that shapes how we perceive the world and guides us to how we fit in.

Go HERE to download a guide to bringing Shabbat home, whether you’re a host or a guest, or having an intimate celebration with your immediate family.

In  Parshat Beha’alotcha, Hebrew for “when you step up,” we read the story about the Israelites crying out again complaining about the miserable conditions of the desert. They complained to their leader Moses that there was nothing to eat besides manna and they wanted meat and fish and fruits and vegetables like they ate in Egypt. It’s as if they forgot how unbearable their life was as slaves in Egypt. Now that they are free, and have manna to eat and this substance from heaven tastes like whatever they crave, the Jews are also obligated to follow the laws of the land, the commandments.

Moses heard their weeping and begged God, “Why have You placed the burden of this entire people upon me. I alone cannot carry this entire nation, for it is too heavy a burden.”

God said to Moses, “gather seventy men from among the elders of Israel and have them stand with you at the Tent of Appointed Meeting. They will then bear the burden of the people with you. As for the people complaining that life was better for them in Egypt, tell them that God will provide meat. Tell them it will be so much meat that they must eat it for a whole month until it comes out of their nostrils and makes them nauseated. Tell them it is because you have rejected Hashem who is in your midst and you have wept before Hashem saying, ‘Why did we leave Egypt?’”

The meaning of  the Torah go below the surface, and one midrash suggests that in Beha’alotcha  the complaints of the Jewish people is not so much about their physical needs but more about freedom. The word “free” in this Torah portion means “free of divine precepts,” meaning they are responsible for their own actions and for following the laws of the Torah, which requires great social responsibility. And perhaps it means that while change starts by taking individual responsibility, we all must stand together as one people, one nation, and this is never more true than during a time of protest in a pandemic.

Shabbat Shalom, may you find peace, comfort, and reassurance that we are here for a reason and that unity is a verb, not a noun, and we all have a role in making this world a more equal, kinder place.

 

 

 

 

Strangers In A Strange Land, Why Jews Stand With Black Lives

It has been a heart-wrenching few weeks in our nation, in the aftermath of the brutal lynching of George Floyd.

His crime—allegedly spending a $20 counterfeit bill at a convenience store.  It was Memorial Day, and the media was transfixed on reporting about the massive crowds partying at Lake of the Ozarks oblivious to spreading coronavirus to the rest of us.

Meanwhile, another pandemic was happening that many of us felt immune to—and that is the plague of racism in our country. Continue reading

Counting Upward, The Spiritual Journey to Shavuot

Shavuot, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai, is around the corner but Jews have been diligently preparing for this moment since the second night of Passover.

The word Shavuot (or Shavuos) means “weeks,” and the Torah invites us on a seven-week, soul- searching journey known as Sefirat HaOmer–that’s when we count up to the days of Omer. This 49-day time period is meant to be a workout of the human psyche so that our soul is in better shape to receive the vast wisdom in the Torah that was entrusted to us by God. We count up–not down–because each day we ascend to a level higher of spiritual refinement, each day we take one step closer to becoming God’s chosen nation. Living in a Covid pandemic world right now, we are doing a lot of counting. We are counting 100,000 American lives lost to this virus that we didn’t even know existed a year ago. We count days in quarentine, days until another part of the economy reopens. During this time, more than anything,  we are reminded that  every day counts, every person counts, every act of kindness counts, every growing pain counts, and, every blessing counts.

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Let’s Make Some Noise—It’s Purim!


How can one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar also be a  holiday that involves traditions to hide behind masks, parade in the streets dressed in colorful costumes, go overboard on a festive meal,  drink more alcohol than usual, run around like crazy to deliver bags of edible treats (mishloach manot) to friends, neighbors and even strangers, give tzedakah to the needy (or anyone who asks), not to mention make lots of noise in the middle of synagogue while the Rabbi reads from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible),  Well, this is Purim, even inspiring my Rabbi friend to don a gorilla costume and swing from the rafters while making l’chaims.

Continue reading