A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 11.25.2020

With Coronavirus cases spiking across the country, I once again have our first responders very much in mind. As Covid fatigue continues to congeal, the springtime practice of lauding our medical workers every night at 7pm has largely fallen by the wayside, but the troops of doctors, nurses, and medical personnel continue to labor in anxiety, frustration, and unimaginable emotional burden. The maskless, non-complying masses of Corona-doubters and otherwise careless people remain willfully ignorant of the risk that they pose to the bodies, hearts, and emotional health of these front-line workers. It’s enraging. 

With Thanksgiving just a day away, I hope we are all being mindful of the risk to ourselves and our loved ones, as well as to the folks who look after us when we do get sick. I must urge everyone to remember that if you are entertaining on Thanksgiving, please take every precaution: leave windows and doors open to increase ventilation, remain masked when you are not eating, observe social distance as much as possible, and keep it short – longer exposure increases risk.  This is not a normal year – please treat it as a not-normal year.  Next year, please God, we will all be back to arguing about politics and fighting over the last bit of cranberry chutney. But for now, I implore you to play it safe.

With all of our front-line workers in mind, particularly those in the medical field, I couldn’t help but “read them in” to the opening passage of this week’s parasha. Our reading begins with Jacob; having just stolen the precious paternal blessing from his older brother, he is now on the run from the injured and enraged Esau. Along the way to his mother’s family in Haran, he pauses to rest for the night and has his famous dream-vision of the angels ascending and descending the ladder. We’ve seen a lot of angels in Genesis already: angels come to inform Sarah and Avraham that they will have a child; Hagar meets an angel twice, and angels save Lot from the destruction of S’dom; and of course, an angel stays Avraham’s hand from sacrificing Isaac. All of these appearances serve as pivot points. Angels come to save, to redeem, to change for the better the dark things that might have been. 

There is an oft-referenced difficulty in our story, though. The text reads, “[Jacob] had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.” Angels, the rabbis point out, don’t go up and down – they go down and up! Their abode is in the heavens, so they must first descend and only ascend on their return! Therefore, some of the rabbis suggest, the text must be metaphorical. Dena Weiss at Mechon Hadar (I take a class with her twice a week) brought a text from the Zeror HaMor, a 16th century Italian commentary explaining who these angels are: These are people who merit through their souls to be angels of God. 

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I know what I am thankful for this year; it is the people who merit through their souls, and through their extraordinary work, to be angels of God. They are the ones who, in so many cases, are the agents of the pivot-point, saving and redeeming, or making the end a little easier, please God. Let’s all take a moment to think about what’s going on in maxed-out hospitals across the country, about the exhausted and frantic workers who signed up to take care of sick people but never imagined that it would be like this, about their families and the daily dread they live with, about how they are working this holiday weekend.  

Upon awakening, Jacob says achen yesh Adonai bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati! / “Surely the LORD is present in this place and I did not know it!” And then he gives thanks to God. Thanksgiving. So this weekend, let us bring God into our homes by remembering these extraordinary people and giving thanks for them. 

On that note, this past Sunday we conducted the 20th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.  We celebrated this milestone event over Zoom, with readings, songs, reflections, and recollections. One of the highlights for me was the poem Wildly Unimaginable Blessings, by Alden Solovy, which was beautifully read by three RoomJ kids: Tess Borkin, Ma’ayan Lantner, and Arlo Zidell.  It was written as a Rosh Hashanah prayer in response to the pandemic, but it’s a lovely Thanksgiving reflection as well, so I offer it below.

Lastly, a couple of programming notes: On Saturday night, Dec. 12, we will be holding a Zoom Chanukah gathering for all ages.  There will be song, stories, teachings, and general Chanukah fun.  We’ll start it off with Havdalah at the end of evening services – stay tuned for exact timing (early evening). You can also join us for our nightly candle-lighting at the conclusion of weekday services (services begin at 6:45, lighting right around 7:00).

Lastly, on Tuesday Dec. 8, we will be launching a monthly Israeli Politics and Culture Roundup (yes, we’ll find a better name…).  On the second Tuesday of every month, we will meet on Zoom with Tomer Gekler, our wonderful shali’ach from the Jewish Agency.  He will keep us abreast of political and cultural trends in Israel.  

Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat, and a happy Thanksgiving to all: with all the ups and downs in our lives, let’s keep our eyes on the angels!

Rabbi Sam Levine

Wildly Unimaginable Blessings

Let us dream
Wildly unimaginable blessings…
Blessings so unexpected,
Blessings so beyond our hopes for this world,
Blessings so unbelievable in this era,
That their very existence
Uplifts our vision of creation,
Our relationships to each other,
And our yearning for life itself.

Let us dream
Wildly unimaginable blessings…
A complete healing of mind, body, and spirit,
A complete healing for all,
The end of suffering and strife,
The end of plague and disease,
When kindness flows from the river of love,
When goodness flows from the river of grace,
Awakened in the spirit of all beings,
When G-d’s light,
Radiating holiness,
Is seen by everyone.

Let us pray —
With all our hearts —
For wildly unimaginable blessings,
So that G-d will hear the call
To open the gates of the Garden,
Seeing that we haven’t waited,
That we’ve already begun to repair the world,
In testimony to our faith in life,
Our faith in each other,
And our faith in the Holy One,
Blessed be G-d’s Name.