We live now in an unprecedented time. Cathy and I hope and pray that you are well, healthy, and safe. Please know that I am here for you and want to help in any way that I can. Every member of the Temple Jeremiah Leadership Team, professional and volunteer, is also here to help
On to Torah: in the midst of the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle, Moses is commanded to gather the people together. Vayakhel is the Hebrew word used to describe this act of gathering. The three letter Hebrew root of the word is KaHaL, and it is the same word that we use today for the English word, congregation. Something new has been added to this building project. The Israelites are not just building a Tabernacle, a portable sanctuary, they are now building a congregation.
God is now tasking Moses with the job of helping the people connect with one another in a meaningful way. This is the vision that God presents to Moses and this is the vision that we, Temple Jeremiah, have taken upon ourselves some 3500 years later.
Our vision is to be a Jewish community of meaningful connection. Never was this more necessary than it is now. When God commanded Moses to make the Israelites into a Kahal, a congregation, the very first guidance given in how to make this happen is to instruct the Israelites about Shabbat. Indeed, self-care, taking a day of complete rest, is critical to the work of making a congregation of strengthening human connection.
Today we are faced with an enormous challenge, the nature of which is still rapidly unfolding. In this pandemic, a time of social distancing and self-quarantine, staying connected—indeed, building our congregation and becoming a Jewish community of meaningful connection—has never been more difficult. And yet we cannot and must not despair of fulfilling this vision, especially now when it is most needed. To this end, I hope you will take advantage of the many virtual offerings found in this e-newsletter for prayer, for study, for connection.
This poem inspired me, and I want to leave you with this gift:
Pandemic, by Lynn Ungar
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
May the Holy One of Blessing grant to each of us the strength we need to meet the challenges of this time. May this Shabbat be one of true rest and renewal energizing us for the work of the coming week and inspiring us to find the new ways to connect with one another and our congregation.
Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D.