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

September 19, 2020

“There came a time that God called out to Abraham” - “V’ha’Elohim nisah et Avraham” - “And God put Abraham to the test.” (Gen 22:1)

In ways large and small, profound and significant, unimaginable and inexplicable, 2020 is a year of challenges and tests. God put Abraham to the test - every person in our community, our nation, and our world - each and every one of us knows from tests this year.

While we don’t believe that the tests and trials of 2020 are bestowed directly upon us by God, there certainly is an element of powerlessness in our struggles this year. Many of you have described feeling “stuck” to me, or “vulnerable,” or “helpless.” Many of you have told me you feel “lonely” and “alone.”

“There came a time when God put Abraham to the test.” And it’s not just one test, after all.

We are tested by challenges to our physical health and safety, and those of our friends and loved ones, who may be suffering directly from coronavirus.

We are tested by challenges to our mental and emotional health. The impacts of isolation, solitude, and separation from family and friends. We can’t travel around the country or the world, and many of the places we are used to visiting are closed, or they are far from the same.

We are tested by challenges to our economy and our livelihood. We are tested by complexity and questions, about that gray area, at least in Berkshire County, of restaurants, office places, and schools gradually opening back up. Is it safe to do that? Is it safe to go there? How much risk is too much? And how do we navigate in a new social order when different people in our circles make different choices than we would?

Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter recently summarized the challenges of current reality in the Harvard Business Review:

“Our daily habits and routines have all gone out the window. We’re left in a sort of limbo, fretting over how long it will last and what will come next. All we really know, at the end of the day, is that work has been fundamentally changed. These liminal periods — at the boundary of a new state or experience — are complex spaces to occupy. They can make us feel untethered and disoriented.” (

Hougaard and Carter go on to note that “to survive a crisis or transition, our minds reject or ignore the very things that would allow us to feel grounded and connected. Instead of reaching out for community and connection, we draw inwards and focus on our own situations versus others.”

In the liminal space, in a time of crisis or uncertainty, we turn inward. Turning inward - reflection, introspection - all of these are good places to start, particularly at the cusp of a new year. But when turning inward turns to self-imposed isolation, we’ve lost the benefit of time to ourselves and have moved into a narrow place, a place of fear and loneliness, a place without empathy or connection.

What is the antidote to isolation? Community.

We are no strangers to community at Temple Anshe Amunim. We live and breathe community, and we have redefined it for this virtual, socially distant era. From calls to members, to helping with meals and groceries; from supporting each other through trying losses, to smiling at each other on zoom each Shabbat. While we cannot join our voices together in song in the typical ways, we have redefined music and communal singing for our time. And we have expanded what it means to be in community, with members and friends joining us from around the world for services and events. Our current reality may keep us from sitting together, and it also breaks down all barriers of time and space. Community looks different right now, and we are a community more than ever.

Hougaard and Carter offer three ways to move from isolation to connection, to build community across the chaotic, digital divide:

Create a ritual to set intention and focus attention. 

Pay more attention to everyday senses and experiences.

Be fully present with those around you. 

Fortunately, Judaism has prepared us to thrive in these liminal spaces for millennia. We are a people who sanctifies time as much as place. How do we understand that state of limbo, those not here not there” moments? With ritual and blessings. Last night, in our gathering to welcome Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah, we recited the Kiddush - the blessing over the fruit of the vine. The Kiddush actually contains two blessings - the first thanks God for the gift of wine or grape juice. The second blessing actually calls upon God to transform time - from the regular, average, non-holiday or Shabbat days into sacred, holy time - in this case, one of our holiest days of the year. We bookend the conclusion of Shabbat or a holiday with Havdalah, where we transform sacred time back into ordinary days. For the brief few moments of those familiar blessings, we are in that in-between-space.

So even in these unprecedented times, in some ways, we’ve been here before.

We weave together our community with rituals, radical awareness of the beauty in the every day moments, and shutting out the noise to be present with people, virtually or in person.

Over the summer, as Andy Hochberg and I worked on his Torah portion together, we honed in on the word that means sacrifice. “Don’t forget that part,” I joked, “that’s the entire point of the story! Abraham almost sacrifices his son. That’s his test from God.”

Andy’s words stuck with me. “That isn’t the essential part for me. I think the most important line is “And the two of them walked on together,” “vyeilchu sh’neihem yachdav.”

The two of them walked on together. That’s community. We walk on together. We overcome trials and tests, but in a way, they are secondary if we have each other. If we create rituals to connect, pay attention to the world around us, and we are present - showing up for each other when it matters - even as we redefine what it means to be present.

May we walk on together, from strength to strength. May we reach outward and weave the bonds of a community, stronger than ever. May we mark these strange times not with worry and isolation, but with ritual and blessings. May we see the beauty all around us, and may we be present in all the ways we can. May our community be enriched and stronger than ever on that day that we may return to our beloved sanctuary, knowing we have overcome trials and tests, and our community is closer than ever.

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


Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784