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

September 18, 2020

Home, Community, Nation, World. Throughout the High Holy Days, I’ll be exploring these circles of connection. Like a ripple from a pebble tossed into a pristine lake, like the call of a shofar, a great t’kiah blast echoing, echoing beyond - and this year - a year unlike any other - beginning right at our homes.

Home. This year, the idea of home has changed dramatically for so many of us. This year, home became both a place of comfort, and a place of frustration - sometimes simultaneously. Many of us felt blessed to have a safe haven, a comfortable place to spend our days of quarantine and distancing. And yet, whether only in the initial months of the year or continuing to this day, many of us feel stuck at home in ways we have never experienced before. A place of comfort and strength; and a place of frustration and isolation. Since March, I have had many moments of feeling grateful to have a home, a safe place to live and be. I have also had my fair share of moments of annoyance and anger that home was one of the only places I could be.

This summer, as some of you know, I moved to a new home in Lenox. For me, it was a concrete reminder that a house or apartment is what we call the physical places where we live, and a home is what what we make of it.

When we move into a new home, it is a Jewish custom to hang a mezuzah. This ritual is one way we can transform a house - wood, concrete, stone, and metal - into a home. This symbol not only signifies that a home is filled with Jewish values; it reminds us of words central to our faith - the Sh’ma and V’ahavta. The Sh’ma also roots us in our home. As we learn in our midrash, our interpretive, creative, storytelling tradition:

A student asked a teacher - please, teach me, is one permitted to recite the Sh’ma while traveling? So answered the teacher: One is forbidden to recite the Sh’ma while traveling. One is required to stand still, directing one’s heart to the heavens, in awe and reverence, while proclaiming the oneness of God: Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad! Hear O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One! One must speak each word with heartfelt sincerity and then softly add the words Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuto L’olam Va’ed. Blessed is God’s Name forever and ever. (Midrash Tanchuma Lech L’cha 1:1).

One is required to stand still. Of course, as the words of our V’ahavta continue, we recite these words when we stay at home, and when we are on your way. When we lie down, and when we rise up.

When you stand still, and when you stay at home - words that take on new meaning for us in these unprecedented times.

Before we hung mezzuzot in our new home, it was a house, not a home. The transformative power of ritual, the blessings we spoke, the words of Sh’ma and V’ahavta on a small piece of parchment, rolled up inside each one - all of this reminded us that when we stand still and when we stay at home, we are connected to our tradition, to our history, to Jews around the world. Sh’ma Yisrael - Listen, Israel - You Are One, and God is One!

Even if we resent staying at home during the pandemic, even as we are isolated and separated from each other, we are connected with our friends, family, community, nation, and people throughout the world who are doing the same. And even if we struggle with loneliness or boredom, I pray that we each find moments of stillness, of rest, of appreciation, of peace and calm.

Home is both a physical place and an ineffable feeling. Often, it’s the people we live with - or the people we miss - who make us feel most at home. For each of us missing family, friends, right now - I pray that we will continue to stay connected with our loved ones, and find new ways to make each other feel at home.

The things we do at home have dramatically expanded during this unprecedented time. Home isn’t just a place to sleep, eat, and do our yardwork. Home has become a place for virtual birthday parties, classes, lectures and exams, conferences and conventions, virtual rallies and lobbying days, and yes, Shabbat services and High Holy Day gatherings. We’ve redefined what we can do at home, even if we’d ideally do those things in person.

Earlier this summer, my heart filled with joy when I watched the Wizard of Oz, my all-time favorite movie, with my three year old son for the first time. Dorothy’s famous words struck me in a new way: “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”

This year, may we make each of our homes into a small sanctuary, a mikdash me’at. While we are not gathering in our Temple home, we are home because we are gathering together, in all the ways we can, during this season. May we redefine the places we spend much of our time as homes, as sacred space. May we stand still, and may we love the stillness, even as we miss the bustle and the noise. May we feel at home wherever we are. Shanah Tovah.

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


Fri, March 1 2024 21 Adar I 5784