D’var Torah: Sukkot (Rabbi Dov Bard)

Sukkot – The Time of our Rejoicing?  Really?

What is left when the world we live in looks less like a house than a sukkah, open to the wind, the rain and the cold?  What remains, other than fear, in a state of radical insecurity?

This is the question, indeed the challenge, that Rabbi Sacks shared several years ago – before the pandemic, before the raging forest fires, and the incredibly polarized American public.  Our world today does feel, more fragile than ever, like a sukkah shuddering in the breeze.

And the rabbi’s response:

The answer is simcha, joy.  For joy does not involve, as does happiness, a judgment about life as a whole.  Joy lives in the moment.  It asks no questions about tomorrow.  It celebrates the power of now . . . Joy blesses God day by day.  It celebrates the mere fact of being here, now, . . . inhaling to the full this day, this hour, this eternity-in-a-moment that was not before and will not be again Joy embraces the contingency of life.  It knows that yesterday has gone and tomorrow is unknown.  It does not ask what was or will be.  It makes no calculations.  It is a state of radical thankfulness for the gift of being.  Even in an age too fraught for happiness, there can still be joy(Sukkot Machzor, p.xlviii)

Sukkot commemorates not the completed event of liberation of Pesach but the maturation of a free people, living with very little, but marching on a long wilderness path to redemption.  It challenges us to live with joy despite the vulnerability of a temporary structure – pilloried by the rain, the cold, the winds and the fires.  And yet it is to be “the time of our rejoicing.”  And as Rabbi Sacks teaches, the answer is simcha, joy.  For joy does not involve, as does happiness, a judgment about life as a whole.  Joy lives in the moment. 

May we be blessed with the ability to rejoice in the moment.

And may we be an inspiration for our children.

 

Rabbi Dov Bard, Former Head of School, Schechter Alumni Parent, Schechter Grandparent

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D’var Torah: Shira Fischer (Ha’azinu)

Ha’azinu contains one of the two great poems in the Torah. Along with Shirat Hayam, it is written in a special way such that it is identifiable from just a glance into the scroll—if you see two narrow columns side by side, that’s the song in Haazinu.

Nachmanides (13th century Spain) summarizes the poem thus: “Great is this Song, since it contains within it the present, and the past, that which is to come, this life and the Hereafter.”

As Nechama Leibowitz points out in her commentary, Moshe is given two instructions regarding the poem. The first is to write it down, and the second is to teach it to the children of Israel: “Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths…” (D’varim 31:19, from last week’s parasha).

While this could be referring to just the poem in our parasha, much of the rabbinic tradition understands that what Moshe is supposed to teach is instead the whole Torah, because the text describes what Moshe wrote as follows: “When Moses had put down in writing the words of this Torah/Teaching to the very end” (D’varim 31:24).

Why is Torah called poetry? Nechama Leibowitz quotes the Netziv (19th century Russia) to explain that while the Torah is not written as a poem, it is essentially poetry: it is symbolic and requires rereading to fully understand and appreciate, and it is filled with many levels of meaning.

At the time Moses recites the poem in Ha’azinu, he is staring in the face of a severe decree that feels too heavy to bear. Like Moses, we are all questioning, why? Can we be given another chance? Is there any chance of the judgement being changed? “With whom shall I seek mercy for myself?” he asks (Midrash Tanchuma Va’etchanan 6). The midrash even has Moshe using the formulation we repeat over and over on the High Holidays: “Adonai, adonai, el rachum v’chanun” (Sh’mot 34:6), which placates God and makes him almost relent. The Torah, as poetry, helps the people of Israel understand their story, and helps Moshe appease God.

May our prayers be heard in this year of pain and suffering, and may the words—and the poetry—of the Torah and of the high holiday prayers provide comfort and new understanding.

Shana tova!

Shira Fischer ’92, Schechter parent

Rebecca Lurie

D’var Torah: Rebecca Lurie (Rosh Hashanah)

 

When I transitioned into a career in school leadership, I was warned that one of the greatest challenges would be the efforts to balance the tension between the different perspectives of our community members. And while it has been a challenge, the path forward has generally been pretty clear. Over the past few months, however, the tension between the perspectives has become extremely pronounced. The needs and desires of our faculty and staff are often in direct opposition to the needs and desires of our parents, which can be in direct opposition to the needs and desires of our students. Finding a path forward, while recognizing this tension, has been the hardest challenge I have personally faced as the leader of our school.

 

As I look towards Rosh Hashanah, I am reminded of the tensions that exist in this time of year. The first is the tension between the familiar and what is new. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday, just like all others, that comes each and every year like clockwork and yet at its core, Rosh Hashanah represents newness and renewal. The second tension is between creation and mortality. According to Rabbi Elazar in gemarah Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah is the collective birthday of humankind as it coincides with the sixth day of creation, when Adam and Eve were created – the birthday of humanity. This birthday is also the day on which sin, judgement and mortality came into being. A third tension on Rosh Hashanah is between optimism and helplessness. During this time of year, the grass is greenest, the fruit trees are ripest and our hopes are highest. Yet, with that hope comes a profound uncertainty: we feel the need to greet all of our friends and loved ones with the phrase Shanah Tovah Tekatevu Vtechatemu: May you and yours be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet new year. It is not certain that we will be inscribed in the Book of Life, and 2020 has been a stark reminder of our fragility and mortality.
This Rosh Hashanah, I ask Hashem (God) for the strength to be able to navigate these waters for the sake of our community. While faced with these tensions each and every day, I promise to listen, reflect, communicate, admit mistakes and at the same time, be decisive because our community needs leadership right now. I am acutely aware of the fact that I will disappoint some of you with certain choices because when tension exists it is impossible to create consensus. In this new year, I ask for your appreciation of these tensions and patience as we try to do the unthinkable for the sake of our students. Wishing you all a year of renewal, reflection and joy. Shanah Tovah.

 

Rebecca Lurie, Head of School

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Ravid Tilles (Nitzavim/Vayelech)

Unprecedented. It is a word that has been used a lot this year, especially since March. I saw someone post a meme on Facebook that they miss the good old days when things were “precedented.” So often when we hear the word “unprecedented” to describe events and moments in 2020 it carries a negative connotation. But as a Schechter community we are doing something that is amazing and unprecedented – we are running a school (safely) in the midst of a global pandemic. We have students, in person, following strict protocols, including an unprecedented 94 new students. We have students zooming in, we have a full time remote track that is entirely online – we have every student, teacher and parent’s best interest in mind. 

This week’s double parsha of Nitzavim/Vayelech shares the closing words of Moshe’s very long sermon to B’nai Yisrael as they are about to enter the Land of Israel after an eventful 40 year journey through the wilderness. As an important reminder, Moshe is speaking to a different generation of B’nai Yisrael than the one that was freed from Egypt 40 years earlier. In parshat Shelach Lecha, the community was punished for doubting God after the unrest that was sewed by the m’raglim (scouts). As a result of this unfounded lack of faith (these are the same people who watched God split the sea!), the entire generation is set on a path that extends their journey through the desert causing the initial generation of freed people to die out. 

Remembering that Moshe is speaking to a new generation of B’nai Yisrael makes the words of this week’s parsha more profound. The Torah says: “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day. Well you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we passed through the midst of various other nations through which you passed.” These p’sukim (verses) connect B’nai Yisrael with the previous generations, the ones who had actually been freed from Egypt, and, at the same time, all of the past and future generations of our ancient heritage. In these p’sukim, Moshe brings all people who had ever been and will ever be associated with the Jewish people to a single, shared, moment in history.

These words bend time and space and transport us backwards and forwards to different points in Jewish history. They blur the lines of generations to remind us that our story is paradoxically ancient and unwritten. That all moments in our history are unprecedented in their current iteration, and yet, as Kohelet says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” This means that at any point in history we can simultaneously look backward and forward to most fully understand and appreciate our present moment. 

We are living in unprecedented times and we are doing unprecedented things to make sure that Schechter can thrive, despite the challenge. But this is not the first time that Jewish education has been threatened and challenged. It is not the first time that history has forced the Jewish people to take stock of what is most important, compelling our leadership to make difficult and bold decisions. This is simply our moment in time. And Jewish life is so remarkable because our peoplehood has persevered through so much of the past thousands of years so no challenge feels impossible or unprecedented anymore. The precedence set by previous generations is that we can succeed during unprecedented times, and 2020 is simply our generation’s unprecedented moment. 

The final piece of this, however, is that our ability to persevere during unprecedented times is not a given. It is not an inherited birthright. It is earned. We work for it and we make sacrifices. The heroes of our school’s story, when it is told, will be the faculty and staff at Schechter. Whether members of the Jewish faith or not, every person who works at Schechter has given their entire selves to write a meaningful chapter in this long lasting story of B’nai Yisrael and the Jewish people. They are all confronting these unprecedented challenges with poise, collaboration, creativity and commitment. It is a great honor to stand alongside my colleagues to meet this moment in history on behalf of the generations that have come before us and the ones that will come after. 

Shabbat Shalom.

 

Rabbi Ravid Tilles, Director of Jewish Life and Learning, Schechter Parent

D’var Torah: Rabbi Rebecca Weinstein (Shlach)

This past July I gave birth to our daughter Leah. I remember in the months leading up to her birth I would turn to my husband and ask, “What do you think she will be like?”, “Do you think she will have a lot of hair?”, “Do you think I will be a good Mom?”
It has been my experience that moments of uncertainty, moments of great transition, open us to asking many questions. Many of these questions we don’t have answers to…. “What do you think she will be like?” only time can tell us. We can seek guidance for some of our questions from others, or science, “Do you think she will have a lot of hair?” The 3D ultrasound we got and my terrible heartburn both confirmed yes, she will have a lot of hair. Perhaps most importantly, we can recognize our own agency in answering our questions, “Do you think I will be a good Mom?” I can choose to open my heart to my daughter, to love her endlessly, and to make decisions which I hope are in her best interest.
In our parsha this week, Sh’lach, Moses sends men to go and spy on the land of Canaan. He says to them, “See the Land—how is it?…And how is the Land in which it dwells—is it good or bad? And how is the land—is it fertile or is it lean? (B’midbar 13:18-20)”  Moses, at this moment of transition, has a list of questions he hopes to be answered in a clear cut way. Moses wants to know with certainty what the future holds. If only we too had a way to see with clarity what our futures hold, to see how our land will be.
Midrash Tanchuma teaches on the opening of our parsha, “Send men.” R. Aha the Great opened the discourse with Isaiah  40:8 “Grass withers, flowers fade, but the word of our God shall stand forever.”  The text reminds us of the incredible journey the Israelites have been on.  Abraham had no way of foreseeing what the path would look like on the way to God fulfilling the covenant, nor did any of our ancestors. It leaves the reader wondering why Moses chooses to send spies out at all. Perhaps it speaks to our deep human wish to know what tomorrow will bring.
Our parsha reminds us that while there are some questions in life that we can answer, none of us know with certainty what the path to the future looks like. Perhaps instead of going down the rabbit hole of trying to predict the unpredictable, we can focus instead on what we can control.
We can choose to go outside on a beautiful day and let the sun shine on our faces.
We can choose to pick up the phone and call a loved one and catch up.
We can choose to be an active member in our incredible Schechter community.
May we all be blessed with making peace with the uncertain and finding comfort in controlling what we can.
With Love, Rabbi Rebecca
Rabbi Rebecca Weinstein, Grade 6 Tanach, Grade 8 Torah She’b’al Peh

D’var Torah: Rabbi Daniel Liben (Beha’alotcha)

Shabbat B’Ha’alot’cha

Do you ever get anxious before going on a long trip?  What do you have to organize and prepare before you feel ready to pile into the car and get going?

For the third week in a row, we have been reading in meticulous detail about the Israelites’ planned departure from Sinai, in order to begin their journey to the Promised Land.

It is supposed to be a triumphant journey for the former slaves.  Over the last two weeks, we read about the precise census taking of all men of military age, and a choreographed staging of the tribes, each under its own flag, forming a vast army of God, with the Tabernacle at its very center.

Finally, the Levites complete the Tabernacle and light the Menorah for the first time.  With the blasts of trumpets, the Israelites are ready to set forth!  Moses bids farewell to his dear father-in-law, who will not be joining them on their journey, and the people are ready to march: “Advance, O Lord! May Your enemies be scattered, and may Your foes flee before You!”

We, however, who have read this book before, know that the triumphant beginning is only a false start: No sooner do the Israelites actually leave Mount Sinai then all hell breaks loose.  The people complain bitterly that they are hungry, rebel against Moses, and even talk about returning to Egypt!  Thus begins a much longer journey, about fear, rebellion and disappointment, which will last nearly 40 years, until a new generation of Israelites will arise.

This book will be a guide for future generations as it poses its basic questions: How do we carry God’s Comforting Presence with us, when we are no longer camped at Mount Sinai?  How do we maintain our faith when the ground seems to shift under our feet, and we don’t really know where we are?  Can we maintain our trust and equanimity, and stand up to our fears, when the world seems so dangerous and unpredictable?

In a time of pandemic and social disarray, we recognize the Israelites’ fear as our own.   But we resist giving in to it: we take a deep breath and realize that this is only part of a constantly changing story.  We will learn, like the Israelites, to discover meaning in the journey, to find strength, comfort and faith, even when we don’t know what the next chapter may bring.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Dan Liben, Temple Israel of Natick, Schechter Alumni Parent

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Elan Babchuck (Naso)

Ever since we were blessed to become parents a little over eight years ago, my wife and I have sat down to Shabbat dinner with our children, placed our hands gently on their heads, closed our eyes, and blessed them with the Priestly Blessing – likely the oldest of all ancient Jewish blessings, and possibly the oldest Bible text, as well. And yet even though we are drawing from a source that is thousands of years old and hasn’t changed since, ours sound just a little bit different every single week, as we add our own blessings for each child based on what they tell us they need most in that moment.

The text – from Number 6:24 – 26 – reads as follows (and admittedly is much more beautiful in its original Hebrew): “May God bless you and protect you; May God deal kindly and graciously with you; May God look favorably upon you and grant you peace.”

With such a perfect piece of prose, why should we feel emboldened to add anything at all? After all, we are instructed very clearly in Deuteronomy 4:2: “Do not add to that which I command you, and you shall not subtract from it…” Here’s why: Because as powerful as this ancient blessing is, it is designed to be an umbrella blessing – one that encompasses all the ways that God has and might continue to lift us up in our lives. But it’s very universality – which invites its use at every life cycle event imaginable – can also prevent those being blessed by it to fully appreciate the intimacy with which the blesser might be offering it.

This is precisely why there are dozens of rabbinic commentaries from each generation – ancient and modern alike – that attempt to unpack the meaning of each part of the blessing. Recognizing this, the Kli Yakar (17th century rabbi) notes that “there are many opinions as to the meaning of each individual blessing, and everyone interprets according to their own illuminations.”

Another commentary, Haemek Davar (19th century rabbi), interprets the first part of the blessing (“May God bless you”) to include “whatever is appropriate for each person to be blessed with…Thus included in this general blessing is an additional blessing for each person.” The Priestly Blessing is a starting point, but it is also an invitation to delve deeper into the intimacy of the moment and offer your loved ones the blessings they most yearn for in their lives.

Which brings us to today, to this tumultuous, surreal and frightening time. To a pandemic that has exacerbated so many of our anxieties, underscored our individual and communal weaknesses, and deepened our growing sense of isolation and loneliness. In other words, this is a moment in which we should all be offering blessings in abundance – with heartfelt abandon – to as many people in our lives as possible.

So before the sun sets this Friday night, or maybe before you even finish reading this newsletter, think of some dear people in your life and try to intuit the kinds of blessings they most need in this moment. Maybe it’s a blessing of continued safety. Maybe it’s a blessing of prosperity in the midst of a financial drought. Maybe it’s a blessing of companionship, of being reminded that they are known and they are loved. And maybe it’s simply the blessing of being asked what blessing they need most, and then hearing their cherished friend mirror it back to them.

And if you’re anything like me, you might find yourself – the one giving the blessing – feeling just as blessed by the experience as your friend.

Rabbi Elan Babchuck ’96, Founding Director, Glean Network, Director of Innovation, Clal

D’var Torah: Shiraz Sage (Shavuot)

Before working on my Dvar Torah I always thought of G-d as a being that watches over everybody and listens to their prayers. I believed Hashem guided us in the right way of life, but let us make decisions.

On Shavuot we read the ten commandments. I noticed that there seemed to be a repetition at the very beginning. I was perplexed at this apparent redundancy.

The Ten Commandments start with God introducing God’s self. And then God immediately says, לֹא יִהְיֶה־לְךָ אֱלֹקים אֲחֵרִים עַל־פָּנָיַ  ‘don’t have any other gods before me’ and לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל ‘don’t make any other gods for yourself’. This sounds repetitive. Since the Torah does not use extra words, and God must have put a lot of thought into what was going to be included in this most dramatic moment, why was it written three times? 

Rashi, the 11th Century, French Biblical commentator, stated that  לא יהיה לך, you should not have other gods, means that you should not think in your head that there is more than one god, not to even have the idea. He says that  לא תעשה לך means that you should not make for yourself another god, for example an idol. Nowadays having only one G-d, and not praying and bowing down to other ones has been tradition for years and years, and there are not many cultures around us that bow down to idols. 

Following this commandment, must have been really hard for the Jewish people back then because they were used to idols. They had just come out of a kingdom where the king, Pharaoh, was thought to be a god among many other gods. You can tell that not bowing down to idols was hard for Bnei Israel, because when Moshe stayed up on Har Sinai longer than they expected, they were so nervous that they made the golden calf and prayed to it. Even though it was exactly what ה׳ had said not to do!  

As you can see Hashem’s request to be the one and only God of the Jewish people was a big deal and the people clearly had a lot of trouble. Today fewer people worship idols so it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. But there are things that we idolize – like sports, heroes, or stars. Sometimes these could seem like they are more important than anything else, and this is when we have to remember that Hashem is more important than any human creation. 

If Hashem being one is so important then maybe we should be reciting the Ten Commandments every day. As I studied more I realized that we do remind ourselves of the 10 commandments everyday but not in the way that I might have expected. Jewish practice is to say the tefillah that we call the Shema three times a day. The first line of of this most important prayer is שמע ישראל ה׳ אלוקינו ה׳ אחד. Usually translated as Listen Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Is there something more to this then telling us that there is only one G-d considering it is said so often? The answer given in the Talmud Yerushalmi, quoting Rabbi Levi who said that the 10 commandments are written within the Shema. The Shema is a prayer that I say every day, but before I read this it had never occurred to me that the Aseret HaDibrot are hinted in them. Rabbi Levi does not tell us what he means by this, so I was curious and went looking. The first line covers the first three commandments about God being one. Then, the phrase 

 וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל־לְבָבֶךָ׃

Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day,

 uses the same word that we use for the commandments; Devarim is the same root as the word dibrot. Next,

 וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ – 

You will teach them to your children,

 reminds us that if you teach your children then they will learn to respect you – which reminds us of the commandments to keep Shabbat and honor our parents.

בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ  – 

When you are in your house or out on your way

Reminds us of the commandments not be jealous of your neighbor’s and to be happy with what you have and what Hashem granted you. As well as behaving well in society. Not murdering your neighbor is a pretty good idea! 

Shema reminds us that we have a covenant, a brit, with God when we say

 וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ

Bind them as a sign on your hand 

The word א֖וֹת or sign is understood by the rabbis to mean an agreement.  This agreement that we made at Har Sinai נעשה ונשמע we will follow and we will do. Our promise to do what Hashem asks from us and Hashem will take care of us. 

The last paragraph of this prayer reminds us to wear tzitzit or ritual fringes like the ones on the talitot that some of you are wearing. Tzitzit are worn to remind us of the mitzvot. There is a story in the Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Menachot that describes this very literally. Once there was a man who wanted to do something bad. Just as he was about to do it, his tzitzit hit him in the face! This sudden action embarrassed and surprised him, which made him not do the naughty act that he meant to do. By saying the Shema every day we are reminding ourselves of the promises we made to Hashem at Har Sinai to keep Hashem as our one God.

By starting the Ten commandments with “I am your God”  God sends us the direct message that this is the most important concept of the Ten. And if you did not get that message, God repeats it two more times. God is the source of the mitzvot, the directions for how to live a Jewish life. I think reminding us that G-d is one, reminds us to do the mitzvot

You might think it funny that we don’t say the ten commandments everyday.  Instead, the Shema is our daily reminder of the 10 commandments, but they are only hinted at in the Shema. The idea of one G-d is the main one in the Shema, just as it seems to be in the 10 commandments.

Hashem speaks to each person differently. We can interpret this oneness as a one-on-one  relationship between Hashem and each one of us. This relationship started with Hashem blowing Ruach Elokim, the spirit of God, into Adam at creation. As the descendants of Adam, we share the connection of  having Ruach Elokim in us. At the same time, each of our relationships with Hashem is unique. We work on our relationship by doing  mitzvot and recognizing the aspect of Hashem in each person. That way we give everyone the respect they deserve.

 

Shiraz Sage ’21

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Carl Perkins (Bamidbar)

“Are We There Yet?”

“Are we there yet?” That was one of the many pleas that my wife’s cousin would often present to his parents. In response to this and similar pleas, they would sometimes simply say, “DP.” “DP” was their family’s shorthand for a simple message: “Develop patience.”

Patience — savlaNOOT, in Hebrew — is, I think we would all agree, a virtue.  But if it is a virtue, how do we pursue it? How do we achieve it?

This is not an idle question at this time. Most of us are spending most of our time, morning, noon and night, in our homes. Most of our kids are doing the same. We’re interacting in close quarters. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the air.  When will things be different? What will the summer be like? Will we go back to school in the fall? When?

We can learn something from the experience of our ancestors during their journey through the Wilderness (the midBAR, in Hebrew).  Just a month or so after crossing the Sea of Reeds, they arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai.  Moses left them to go up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. “I’ll be back after 40 days!” he said, according to a midrash. (Note the exact language.)  On the morning of the fortieth day, they looked up the mountain expectantly.  “Where is he?” When’s he coming down?” All morning long they waited.  No Moses.

Finally, their murmurings took a turn: “He’s not coming back. He’s not coming back at all!” In desperation, they turned to Aaron to build for them a Golden Calf, and then, as they were worshipping it, Moses appeared. He was angry. “I said I was coming back after 40 days!” They had assumed that he was coming back on the morning of the 40th day, whereas he had meant that he would only return after 40 complete days. If only they had waited that extra half-day!!!

Lack of patience led to a catastrophe.  

It is clear: the stakes of impatience are high.

So, what do we do? How do we “stay the course”? How do we keep doing what we are doing — maintaining physical isolation, washing our hands, wearing masks — when the time-line is so unclear? What can provide us with the confidence, the commitment, the perseverance?

It’s not easy, of course. The Hebrew word “savlanut” is related to the word, “lisBOL,” “to bear a burden.” Waiting — without knowing how long we need to wait — is a burden. It’s a challenge — for our children and for ourselves — that we shouldn’t underestimate.

The answer, though, is straightforward: Let’s remember where we’re going.  Let’s keep our goal before us. Knowing our goal, and knowing that it lies ahead; knowing that we can, eventually, as a society, achieve it, can lighten our load, and lighten our step.  

Let’s remember how lucky we are. Many of us are sheltering in place with our families; we have homes in which to live; we have means of communication that were unthinkable even 20 years ago.  We can do this. All we need to do is to remind ourselves of what lies ahead — and then, together with one another, day after day, put one foot ahead of the other. 

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Carl Perkins, Temple Aliyah, Schechter alumni parent

 

D’var Torah: Cantor Michael McCloskey (Behar/Bechukotai)

Shemitah and the Small Moments

The Sabbatical year, or shemitah is the quintessence of Sabbath. Whether for a year or for one day in a week, we cease being consumers and producers, and devote our energy to being contemplatives, appreciators, celebrants, and relational beings.  During the shemitah year our ancestors were commanded to let the land lie fallow.  What grew naturally was permitted to be consumed by the landowner, servant, day-laborer, and domestic and wild animal alike.

According to a deep and meaningful rabbinic teaching, there is none mightier than the one who observes this mitzvah.  Promulgated in the name of Rabbi Isaac, the text acknowledges that many people desire to do good and engage in a particular act of devotion or loving-kindness for a day, a week, even a month.  However, our nature is to eventually become distracted.  The “mighty one” who observes the shemitah, sees that which is his, which he has worked for, given freely and equally to any who are hungry, sees his field uncultivated, and the fruition of his work put on hold.  

We, in Greater Boston and around the world, are currently living with many of these challenges, as we are forced to reconsider the ways in which we work, measure productivity, and structure our time.  As many more people currently work from home, our earth seems to bloom more brightly than ever without so much pollution of fossil fuels. Animals are more easily observable in our parks and surroundings due to the reduced human impact.  

Some of our commentators point out that though the purpose of both Shabbat and Shemitah is partially for the land’s benefit, it is also for us,  as we are drawn into closer relationships with our fellow beings and the Ultimate.  Now unable to hug our friend, visit a grandparent, or physically get together with a classmate, we have become innovative, mindful, and aware in a more significant way of the power of relationship and of small moments shared with others.

My hope is that we will carry some of the lessons of quarantine and shemitah as we very carefully begin to reopen and renew our homes, communities, and world in the coming months.

Cantor Michael McCloskey, Hazzan M’hanekh/Cantor-Educator, Temple Emeth of Chestnut Hill