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

July 30, 2021

Parashat Re'eh 5781: Welcome Back!

It is so good to see you all tonight.

Here we are. Together at long last. Looking out onto the congregation, I’m struck by a simple fact - there are many more layers to that simple phrase: It is so good to see you.

Here we are, seeing each other for the first time in our sanctuary since March 2020, for some of us, longer.

Here we are, seeing many of our Temple friends and family members for the first time in person in so many months.Here we are, seeing each other, face to face, panim el panim.

It is so good to see you.This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, begins with that simple idea: See. Look. Behold.

In March of 2020, we did not know it would be the last chance we had to see each other in three dimensions, on a regular basis. We took for granted that we would gather, week after week, for service, Torah Study, programs, meetings, events, the High Holy Days. We were so accustomed to seeing each other on a regular basis that when we were unable to see each other for months upon months, we were truly caught off guard.

While this has been a strange and challenging time for our community, our modern technology enabled us to continue to see each other, albeit through a screen. Just as we longed, yearned to sit together, to see each other in person, having that visual connection was crucial for us in our time of physical separation, isolation, and distancing.

And that wasn’t just the case at Temple. So many of us stayed in touch with family and friends, near and far, through Zoom, FaceTime, or your own favorite form of video chat. I’ve often thought about what it would have been like if this pandemic had occurred 20, 30 years ago, before such significant advances in technology that allowed us, often almost seamlessly, to continue to work and connect with family, friends, coworkers, and more. All because we could see each other.

See. Behold. Re’eh. Re’eh - l’kol echad l’daber, notes Ibn Ezra, a 12th century Spanish rabbi and commentator. Moses speaks l’kol echad, to each individual, to every member of our people gathered to hear his words.

Re’eh, to see, to look, to behold, to know. To acknowledge each individual person in front of us. While we have seen each other on screens, in passing in the grocery store, something has been missing. I see you. That phrase carries more weight than the idea of acknowledging someone’s physical presence, in person or on Zoom.

I see you. I acknowledge your pain, your challenges, your struggles. I am listening. I am here. I see you.

So often, throughout the pandemic, I called and spoke with members of our Temple family who were struggling, who were simply lonely, fed up, COVID-angry, afraid. And many of you, from our Caring Committee and beyond, made these calls as well. To say “I see you.” When we are in community, we are seen. We are not alone.

We know that the pandemic is not over, that there are still challenges on the road ahead. We know that we are here in sacred covenant, responsible for each other’s health and safety. That’s why we are still wearing our masks tonight - hiding part of our faces from sight, even as we are so delighted to see each other in person. Or why we may still be tuning in to services from home, seeing this service on a screen. We respect everyone’s decision to see and be seen in the way that is right for you.

For those of us here tonight, there is something utterly sacred about returning to a place of panim el panim, of seeing each other face to face. In the final lines of Deuteronomy, which we will read not long from on Simchat Torah, we read:

Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses,
Whom God knew, face to face - panim el panim.

Of course, we’re Jews, so we have a blessing for everything, and we have a blessing to say when we see a friend after a long separation, after a period of over a year.

As we learn in the Talmud (Berachot 58b):
“R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who sees their friend after 12 months says: Blessed is our God, ruler of the universe, who gives life to the dead.

”Even our ancient rabbis understood that being separated from each other, not seeing each other’s faces, it is as if our friends have died and returned to us. Today is a day of renewing relationships and of coming back together in strength and in life.

We recited the shechecheyanu together, another blessing, for giving us life, for enabling us to reach this season, at the beginning of our service.

And there is one more blessing we can say, for acknowledging that we have overcome difficult circumstances, unimaginable suffering, challenging times. A period of separation, when we could not see each other’s faces, when we might have, ourselves, felt isolated and unseen.

That blessing is called Birkat HaGomel, sometimes referred to as benching Gomel.

In a beautiful modern setting of this blessing, drawn from Psalm 13, we declare:

Va’ani b’hasdecha batachti
Yagel libi bishuatecha
Ashira L’Adonai ki gamal alai

I trust in your mercy

My heart rejoices because you have saved me.

I offer you this blessing now, as we rejoice in blessings of seeing each other and being seen, of reuniting with friends, and of overcoming the most challenging of times to join together in community once more.

It is so good to see you tonight.

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

Sat, December 2 2023 19 Kislev 5784