Welcoming Shabbat with Shlomo Carlebach’s L’Cha Dodi
It is Spring, Pesach and time again to launch another season of “Ask the Rabbi.”
The hardest part about this “Ask the Rabbi” experience was actually mustering up the courage to go and sit down with my little sign announcing my presence. Once I got over my own fears, I did it. I took up residence in my space. I sat down, pulled out my sign and waited for an opportunity. A shaded table, a smile and a sincere hello are the key ingredients to this recipe.
A person might ask “Why do I do this?” (go ahead, I’ll wait) Simply, it seems like a good idea. I am out in my community trying to be friendly, to connect to people where they are. There are no expectations. It’s just me and another empty chair inviting people to join me. Reactions run the gamut from ignoring me to embracing me. But here I am.
I am here because I met a friend and colleague for coffee not too long ago and we spent much of our time together saying hello to people we knew and introducing each other and engaging in pleasant conversation. It got me to thinking about what this might look like to purposefully be present. Interestingly, other colleagues particularly my fellow friends in Rabbis Without Borders were thinking along similar lines. Most notably Rabbi Michael and Rabbi Ari have posted their experiences. (and special kudos to Rabbi Michael for getting the TV publicity and raising awareness of his work.)
We are going to where the people are instead of waiting for them to come through our doors, open as they may be. And it sends a message that we are out and present in the day-to-day encounters, not solely the ritual events, meetings and conferences we attend, or our institutions. We are just out here saying hello, sharing some time and welcoming another’s presence, starting a conversation and perhaps a journey together.
So, Come! Ask the Rabbi!
April 15 will be the final day in the life of Temple Beth El in Spring Valley. That was my home growing up. She has merged with another and is now part of the new Reform Temple of Rockland County. Her time has passed, but it is so difficult to say goodbye to a place that is so much a part of me. I learned so much there, developed friendships that still endure, knowledge of my heritage that connects me, a lens through which to look at life and understand it, giving me the foundation upon which to build a meaningful life. It was in this place that I learned about things greater than myself, what it meant to be Jewish, what it meant to be a mensch. My rabbi, Rabbi Frishman z”l, and my cantor, Cantor Weinflash z”l, were towering figures then and still serve as guides along my path. Saying goodbye to this special place is very hard.
The building was much more than a structure; in many ways it was as much home to me as the place I went to lay my head at night. Temple was a place of extraordinary and wonderful experiences. I learned in the classrooms and to teach there as well, to sing in the choir box, to pray in the pews, to engage in the community, to champion important values and causes, to learn about culture and art, to develop a love of Israel and the Jewish people, to ponder great questions and explore the answers, to find meaning under the watchful care of those who loved and nurtured me.
At Temple I became Bar Mitzvah and was married. At Temple I said goodbye to my parents. Our family names adorn the honor wall and Yahrzeit plaques, my dad’s name on the panel of presidents, pictures of me and my brother and sister standing on the bima as part of our confirmation classes, art contributed by my parents, and on and on and on. Words alone are inadequate to express the depth of my emotional attachment this place represents. Almost every corner of the building has a memory of my time there growing up. I am truly blessed to have been there and been a part of it.
On April 15, we will gather one last time in the Sanctuary of Temple to welcome Shabbat and celebrate a place so many of us called home. Temple Beth El lives on in the people who received the gifts from being involved there. Times change and once useful buildings can outlive their purpose, but the relationships and the beauty created in this special place will endure. This is the blessing of Temple bestowed upon us.
Something bad happens a strange infirmity of the body called Tzaraat appears. Some say it is leprosy, others claim it to be the heartbreak of psoriasis. But it appears on clothing too. Either way, the priest confirms the affliction and the family is moved out of community. The priest tends to the affected individuals watching to confirm that the disease has passed so they can rejoin the population. Something else might be going on here however.
I was planning a Shiva Minyan teaching the other day and I saw the words of this parshah speaking to us about the grief-stricken family.
Something calamitous happens when a loved one dies. The loss shakes the family to their core and, as our tradition suggests in our rituals surrounding death, the shock and grief is overwhelming and incapacitating. The seven days of Shiva are marked by an abnegation of needs; the mourners sit on low stools, do not attend to basic items such as grooming, clothes are rent.
We in the community are tasked to keep a caring eye on the mourner. We check in with them regularly. We bring the Kehillah, or sacred community, to the mourner so they may engage in prayer even though they are unable to come to the synagogue. We bring them food to eat because they are unable to care for themselves. We offer love and support and succor. We watch over them until it is time for them to start the process of re-joining the community. We welcome them with caring embrace when they come back to the synagogue to say Kaddish. Like the priest helping the ailing, we are responsibility to the mourners through the period of Shiva through the time they can return. Shiva is like the exile of old from the community. It is imposed for reasons over which the person has no control but is rendered impure, or in this interpretation separated because of the trauma of loss.
Tazria shows us that although an ordeal separates the mourner from the community, the community has a responsibility to reach out and continue to support the grief-stricken, acknowledging the difficult place to which they are banished by loss, but caring for them providing protection and then a pathway back to home and life.