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Parashat Beshalach: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Get Going!

April 10, 2020

Just over a week ago, amidst all the hardships and challenges currently facing our world, our Temple family suffered an unthinkable, heartbreaking loss - Jessica Cutler, beloved wife of our president, Josh, daughter-in-law of Ellen, sister-in-law of Zach and Julie, and mother of new baby, James.

In these strange times, our Temple community has come together in every way we can. We have called, texted, emailed, cried, sat together virtually in silence, organized grocery deliveries, and ensured that the Cutler family was able to observe Passover. Our hearts are breaking, and yet, our hearts are full of love and blessings for each other. Just like so many of our Passover symbols and rituals, like parsley dipped in salt water or charoset mixed with maror - this week has been bitter with loss, and sweet with connection, blessings, and love.

And so I want to talk with you tonight about blessings. Some of you may know that Jessica, along with Lesley Beck, Rachel Alemany, Laura Feakes, Barbara Viniar, and Jess’s mother-in-law, Ellen, had been studying Hebrew with me each week. They all started last year with aleph-bet - the Hebrew alphabet, and most recently, they have been working on learning to read and chant from the Torah, in preparation for an Adult B’not Mitzvah service. 

Last week, our Hebrew class met on zoom, but other than being in a virtual classroom, our practice and time shared together was as usual. Each member of the class took turns practicing their Torah portion, which comes to us from Parashat Naso, from the book of Numbers - the words of the Priestly Blessing, Birkat Kohanim. And so the last words I heard Jessica speak were words of blessing - our most ancient prayer for peace.

There are so many moments when we will miss Jessica in the days and years to come, including when that group is called to the bima at 26 Broad Street, someday soon, God-willing, to share this blessing of peace, straight from our source of peace and wisdom, our Torah.

Jessica spoke blessings wherever she went, whether through words of Torah and prayer, or through the kind way she moved through world. When we lose people we love, we often think - if only I had told them, thanked them, offered them blessings each day. We can’t be too hard on ourselves right now - we offered the blessings we could, when we did, and we can only continue to share blessings and gratitude with the people around us, as a way to honor Jessica and all our loved ones we have lost.

The final words of our Priestly Blessing are v’yasem l’cha shalom - may God grant you peace. As we learn in our midrash, “God’s ways are not the ways of people - God can continue to offer blessings to people even after they are gone.” (Midrash Tanchuma Noach 6:2) God can offer those blessings of peace even when we cannot.

When the tzadikim, when the righteous ones leave us, the prophet Isaiah teaches that each person who walked on a righteous path will surely rest in peace (Isaiah 57:2). Gadol hashalom, great is the peace that is given to the righteous ones among us (Sifrei Bamidbar 42:2).

Even in times of hardship and sorrow, of struggle and adversity, may we all continue to walk on that righteous path, the path of peace. As we say of our Torah, eitz chayim hi l’machazikim bah, v’tomchecha me’ushar - she is a tree of life - of life everlasting, of the life that extends far into the world to come - for all who hold fast to her. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. May her memory truly be a blessing for us all.

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch
Temple Anshe Amunim | Pittsfield, MA

Fri, May 29 2020 6 Sivan 5780