4. Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day – today!) videos
5. Julia Ostrov musical video
6. You are a Wonder – Musical preview of my Shabbat sermon
Like all three of the pilgrimage festivals, Shavu’ot is referred to by several names. In the Torah, it is called Chag HaKatzir – the Feast of the Harvest; Chag Shavu’ot – the Feast of Weeks; and Yom HaBikkurim – the Festival of First Fruits. The rabbis of the Talmud add a fourth name: Atzeret, or “concluding.”
What exactly are we concluding, one might ask? The rabbis perceived Shavu’ot to be a kind of conclusion to the festival of Passover. The word “Atzeret” is familiar to us from the festival that concludes Sukkot – Shmini Atzeret, the “Eighth day of Concluding.” A midrashic source (Yalkut Shimoni) suggests that God would have paused for 50 days after the end of Sukkot before establishing Shmini Atzeret, but that would have caused people to have to travel in the rainy season, so out of a love for God’s people Israel, God adjoined it to Sukkot (kind of like davening mincha and ma’ariv back to back so you don’t have to come to shul a third time?).
In essence, the rabbis say, we are concluding the historic journey from redemption, as expressed in the Exodus from Egypt, to revelation, with the receiving of the Torah at Sinai. The atzeret – the conclusion, is the grand finale to an extended pause. The fact is, we need extended periods of time to absorb momentous events in our lives, to make sense of them, to understand how they have impacted us and how they have changed us. The Jewish mystics understood this and tied each day of the Omer to a spiritual aspect of our personalities so that we might see ourselves and our world from 49 different angles.
This week, we begin reading Sefer Bamidbar – the book of Numbers. The action here all takes place in the desert. The rabbis ask, “Why was Torah given in the desert? Why not in the Promised Land? Why not in a more beautiful or majestic place? Why in the desolate wilderness?” There are many answers to the question (we discussed a number of them in our Thursday morning parasha discussion), but most resounding for me is the idea that it is in the wilderness that we can really pause; with nothing to distract us, surrounded by wide open spaces and endless sky, our minds can be open to all possibilities. The counting of the Omer is a kind of temporal wilderness – it’s a time to take stock, to reflect and consider what has happened to us, to be open to all possibilities.
Of course, the Omer comes to end – with Shavu’ot, with the receiving of Torah, with cheesecake! The extended “omer” that we all find ourselves in – the “pause” that was imposed upon us, may also be a time for deep reflection. With the cancellation of summer camps, summer travel, visits and “down time,” with the prospect of extended confinement and uncertainty about the future, it is easy to be gloomy, and those feelings are justified. At the same time, I have been noticing a trend: people have been telling me that they are finding new joy in being with their families, that despite the limitations, they have a new awareness of what the have as opposed to what they are missing. There may be no better time for counting our blessings than now. This involves entering into our own desert, keeping our eyes and our minds open to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and preparing for the Torah that will come at the end of it.
Shabbat shalom u’mevorach,
A joyful Yom Yerushalayim!
Rabbi Sam Levine
The Jewish Board has made funds available for community support. They asked a group of rabbis and community leaders from Brownstone Brooklyn (we’re included in that catchment) to decide what to do with our allotment. We decided that food security was a pressing concern in our communities, or that it was sure to become one for many people in the coming months. The result of our meetings is that we are partnering with a community center on Eastern Parkway and are now in a position to begin receiving food packages for those in need. The packages would include kosher groceries and will be available on a weekly basis. They will be delivered to EMJC on Mondays and then volunteers will deliver them to individual homes. IF YOU, OR ANYONE YOU KNOW, WOULD BENEFIT FROM THIS PROGRAM, PLEASE CONTACT WAYNE OR ME. ALL INQUIRIES WILL BE CONFIDENTIAL, AS WILL FOOD DELIVERIES (TO YOUR DOOR). Deliveries could begin as soon as this coming Monday (Memorial Day).
The Jewish Board is also running a series of programs on maintaining our mental health through these difficult times. Rabbi Simkha Weintraub is leading a session this coming Tuesday called Caring for Your Spirit in a Time of Crisis. Details are here:
Our own Julia Ostrov shared a video with us of a song from her project Revival. Julia’s wife Kristen Plylar Moore created and wrote the show, a “spiritual folk-rock music show,” and they have performed an earlier version of it at EMJC. You can watch this wonderful Coronavirus-age video here:
Lastly, I include a favorite song of mine to introduce the theme of my sermon this Shabbat. This powerful piece by the legendary Israeli chanteuse Chava Alberstein is a musical setting of a quote attributed to Pablo Casals, the (also) legendary Spanish cellist and activist, which she interpreted as a song of peace for Israel. I give you the quote from Casals, followed by a link to the YouTube video of Chava Alberstien’s setting, followed by the (extended) lyrics in English. There will not be a test on the material – just enjoy!
“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michaelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”