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

July 30, 2021

Parashat Eikev 5781

This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, could not be a better fit for us to read on our final all-virtual Shabbat, the week before we return and reconsecrate our building, before we pray together in person, before we hear each other’s voices rise together in song and prayer for the first time in nearly a year and a half.

Moses, relaying God’s word to the people, who are about to enter the Promised Land, says it this way:

“You shall faithfully observe all the Instruction that I enjoin upon you today, that you may thrive and increase and be able to possess the land that God promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember the long way that your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, in order to test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep the divine commandments or not…the clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years….Therefore, keep the commandments of your God, walk in god’s ways and show reverence.”(Deut.8)

Remember the long way that you have traveled in the wilderness. While we have not been apart for forty years, it certainly feels like it! We have been on a long journey, through hardships, challenges, and struggles. We have suffered personally - losses of friends and family members, isolation, boredom, frustration, loneliness, and longing.

While the pandemic is not over, and we will return to in-person gathering with the appropriate health and safety precautions prepared so thoughtfully by our reopening taskforce, we are entering a new phase next Shabbat. Our wandering, our separation, our time without a physical spiritual home in which to gather, is coming to a close. We are not unlike the Israelites who stand at the banks of the Jordan River.

Remember the long way that you have traveled in the wilderness. We will not soon forget this time in our lives, no matter what stage of life we are in. Except for my newborn, Mikah, each of us will have our own memories and experiences of this time. Remember the long way that you have traveled in the wilderness. Remember the challenges we faced. Remember that we are still here, that we are thriving as a community. Remember the lessons we have learned - that while we would certainly prefer to be together physically, we can create a palace in time, a sacred community that does not rely on a location. We are so eager to be together in our building, and yet, we have learned that we are so much more than brick and stone, than an address on a map. I hope we do not soon forget this lesson.

Remember the long way that you have traveled in the wilderness. We do not need to forget this period of our lives and our history, to block it out, even though at times we may want to. Next week will be a time for celebration and reunion. And if you are still remembering and carrying the experiences we have had in our separation and isolation, I strongly encourage you to reach out. To make a time to meet with me and to process this time period through a spiritual lens. There is much healing for us to do, which will begin with singing and praying and learning together in person again. If you want to continue to talk and process and heal, I am here, and I hope we can connect soon.

Remember the long way that you have traveled in the wilderness. And yet, our Torah continues - the clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years. Yes, that’s impressive, miracle stuff - clothes that last forty years, and feet that did not swell after miles and miles of walking. Similarly, while we have been challenged and tested, we have also been blessed. We have been blessed by members of our Temple family who made calls to check in with each other. By meals that we cooked for each other when we were struggling. By the joy of gathering for Shabbat, singing and clapping along at home. By the powerful learning we have done. By the ways we stayed engaged and involved when it would have been easy to tune out or to close ourselves off to community. You did that. You kept our community going by showing up in all the ways we could, and for that, we are blessed.

Remember the long way that you have traveled in the wilderness. Chizkuni, a 13th century French commentator and rabbi, teaches us the following: “remember: if your heart urges you to covet the gold and silver which are part of the idols of these nations, I remind you of the last forty years in the desert when you had no need for, nor even use for gold and silver.”

We have lived more simply, in some ways, during the pandemic. We are about to be back in a place, in a way of living together as a Temple family, in a way that we are seeing as we remerge into normal life, when we have access to gold and silver and meals out at restaurants and Tanglewood and theater and travel and more. These are all good things, enjoyable things. And yet, we can remember that on our long way through the wilderness, we had none of these things. And so instead, we thought creatively, and we lived more simply, and many of us thrived. Remember the long way that you have traveled through the wilderness - perhaps you have acquired some habits, some ways of living and being, that you want to take with you into the next stage of our journey.

Just a few verses later, Moses addresses the people:
“Hear O Israel - you are about to cross the Jordan River, into the Promised Land…” (Deut 9)
Hear, O Temple Anshe Amunim - you are about to cross back into our building, our physical sanctuary of worship and gathering.
This week, from this Shabbat to the next, we are in a liminal space, standing as if on the threshold of our sanctuary, of our Promised Land, of our Holy space, so eager to get in. We are knocking on the door.

May this time of transition be a time of blessing
May we be blessed by our journey, and blessed in our destination
May our wandering come to an end - next week at 26 Broad Street!

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

Tue, April 16 2024 8 Nisan 5784