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

August 14, 2020

On one of our walks this summer, taking in the beauty of the Berkshires, my 3 year old, Lior, pointed to a line of mountains off in the distance.

“What are those?” he asked me.
“Mountains,” I said, “but you knew that!”
“No, what’s after the mountains? What’s that line?”
“Oh.. that’s the horizon, Lior. That’s as far as you can see.”
“What’s after what I can see? What’s after the horizon?”
“Well....” I thought for second. “Another horizon! You can never reach the horizon, because there will always be another one beyond it.”

This answer seemed to satisfy my curious toddler, and since then, when we see beautiful, sweeping scenes throughout the county, mountains that seem miles away, the last line of what we can see, Lior loves to say, “Look! The horizon!”

Since March, it’s been hard for many of us to see the horizon. Initially, none of us were even going out much - so it was hard to see beyond the four walls of our homes. And once we started venturing out, cautiously and now, for some of us, more comfortably, on walks and hikes and other socially distant activities, it‘s still hard to see the horizon. We’re in the moment - which can, at times, be a positive. To be present. To focus on what’s in front of us.

Sometimes being stuck in the moment is challenging. We’re living from headline to headline, meeting to meeting, decision to decision. We’re not seeing the future, distant or even somewhat close by. We’re in the moment, in the mud. The horizon is obscured by a fog. Our heads are down, and we’re all doing our best to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Losing sight of the horizon, taking one step after another, the journey is wearing on us. Many of us are experiencing decision fatigue. Every choice - is it safe to go out? Is it safe to eat there? Can I see that person? Should I send my kids to school? Should I go back to my office? - every decision, every question drains us. For some, these aren’t even choices, which presents a whole other level of challenge. However, even if we have the ability to choose what we do, it doesn’t often feel like a blessing. The endless series of decisions with no horizon in sight feels much more like a curse.

This week’s Torah portion opens in a similar way. Moses, speaking on behalf of God, declares:

“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of your God...and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of your God, but turn away from the path I enjoin upon you...” (Deut. 11:26-28).

A blessing and a curse, and the choice is ours. While here, the choice may seem obvious, in our lives, particularly in this moment in our history, the choices are less clear. Every choice represents compromise and risk - a chance for a curse. And yet, so many of our choices do represent safety, connection, and community - an opportunity for blessing.

In the coming days and weeks, we’ll be sharing more about the choices that we’ve made regarding the specific format of our High Holy Day services with each of you. None of these choices were easy - choosing not to gather in our building, choosing to prerecord major elements of the holidays, choosing to film and stream from home instead of in our beloved sanctuary. All of these choices come with downsides and repercussions - a loss of the familiar, an in-person experience that we can never fully replicate - not this year, at least. Part of making a choice is letting go.

Each of our choices was made thoughtfully and was informed by our values. We have been guided from the first days of the pandemic by our values of inclusion, health, safety, and meaning. We continue to hold Shabbat services and events by zoom to make sure that all members of our community can participate, no matter their health concerns or risks, or our ability to practice appropriate social distancing. For the High Holy Days, we chose to make some modest updates to technology setups for me, Alan, and others leading from home. This is technology that we’ll be able to use to add to the beauty of our Shabbat services as long as we continue in this mode. In making our choice, we also did not want to expose even the small number of people required to stream or film in the synagogue who would need to interact with each other.

We’re looking not just at the choices in front of us, but at the horizon we can see, and the horizon beyond the horizon - at the coming months, and at our future. Some of our worship experiences will be live on zoom, and some will be recorded - we had to look at the horizon. We had to imagine the possibility that our governor could continue to limit the numbers of people who could gather, as he did this week, even to the point of a stay at home order, if our infection rate rises in the coming weeks. We needed to imagine that horizon and be prepared to offer amazing services and experiences, rather than scramble to make a new plan if that change went into effect a few days before Rosh Hashanah. Doing so enables us to include the voices and presence of many TAA members, notably Torah readers, shofar players, and our beloved choir. When we made choices, we looked up from the mud, the fog lifted, and suddenly, we could see the horizon. We have even found ways that, if safe, we will be able to gather in person during this season, for those who are able.

I cannot wait to share with you the awe-inspiring and true-to-TAA services and events that we’ve been able to imagine, innovate, and create this year.

This week’s Torah portion is called Re’eh, which means “See.” “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.” It’s not so simple. There is no ideal way to transform a 3000 year old tradition into an utterly new reality - and many of the choices that we’ve made are the best we could, for TAA, under the circumstances. Other communities will make different choices. We look not just at the choice in front of us, and the next, and the next. We look ahead. We look up. We are rich in history, and we are looking toward our future. We know that this virtual reality is not permanent - it is not our future, forever - it is temporary. We will gather again. We will fill our sanctuary with song. We are looking toward the horizon, and all the beauty that awaits us on the other side of the last mountains we can see.

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch
Temple Anshe Amunim | Pittsfield, MA
Fri, July 12 2024 6 Tammuz 5784