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We Journey With You | D'var Torah - March 13, 2020

Rabbi Abrasley and Rabbi Berry

Shabbat Shalom. Tonight we are gathered virtually to celebrate Shabbat. Our gorgeous sanctuary, so lovingly imagined and built by the remarkable community that is Temple Shalom, is empty except for us, your clergy team. 

In case you are wondering, yes, it does feel surreal to be here without you. We miss your smiling faces, your beautiful voices, and your warm hearts that usually join us each week in prayer and community. We so desperately wish that the moment in which we find ourselves was a bad dream. That we could close our eyes and open them up again in sacred connection with all of you. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa in the book of Exodus, the Israelite people experience a devastating crisis. While Moses goes up the mountain to receive the 10 Commandments, the Israelites begin to doubt. They doubt Moses’s leadership and they doubt God’s presence. And so, they build a golden calf; an idol, but really a monument to their fears, their sorrow, and also to their anger. 

They turn away from what they know to be right. And they turn away from one another. As they do, their community unravels. 

Never in our lifetimes have we felt this story from Jewish tradition come to life so keenly. This week it feels as if the entire world, all of humanity, also faces a different, yet equally devastating crisis. As we have watched COVID-19 spread across the globe, we must take what is happening seriously. This virus, now in our own neighborhood, is a threat to all of us.  

This week we have navigated waters together that are unprecedented. Some of our friends and neighbors are infected. Many in our community are in quarantine. Earlier in the week, the governor of Massachusetts declared a State of Emergency. The Mayor of Newton has restricted large gatherings and non-essential meetings. When we do see one another, we no longer hug or share food or shake hands. 

And finally, yestersday, out of an abundance of caution and love, this community, Temple Shalom, made the difficult decision to close our physical doors. We made this unprecedented choice based on Jewish ethics and values. We value your health, your safety, and your life more than we value your physical presence. 

And so, deeply grateful for the gift of technology and your abiding understanding and kindness, we come to you online. We know you are out there, singing and praying with us. As our community moves on-line, we will explore ways to be together. 

We will continue to post updates on our website and we hope you will join us for online classes, Torah study, prayer, story and music time for kids, and other opportunities to connect with one another.  

While on Mount Sinai, God gave Moses a sign of God’s holy covenant: Aseret HaDibrot, the 10 Commandments. Filled with awe for God, and the knowledge that God had fulfilled God’s promise to the Israelite people, Moses finally makes his way down the mountain. Most of us know what happens. Moses sees the Israelites worshipping their false golden idol. Furious, he smashes the tablets of God’s covenant to pieces. Moses’s actions are a result of fear and anger and shock. 

And yet, Moses, guided by God, is able to restore the relationship with the Israelites. Together they destroy the false monument, and Moses returns to Mount Sinai for a second time to receive another set of tablets. 

Tradition teaches, that the second set were almost identical to the first, with one striking difference: The first tablets were created entirely by God. For the second set, God requires Moses and the Israelites to help repair what they have destroyed. The second set of tablets are the result of a collaboration between God and Moses. Their connection and partnership replace fear and anxiety. 

But there is even more. In a beautiful Midrash we are taught that those fragments of the first set of tablets are not swept away. They continue to exist. Moses places the broken pieces inside the Mishkan - the Holy Ark - the place where God dwells, alongside the tables that are whole. And so both the broken and the whole accompany the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness. 

As we journey forward together into the unknown, this profound lesson of repair can illuminate the way forward. As we navigate this moment, fear and anxiety threaten to disrupt us even more than the virus itself that we need to fight. We know there are better paths through the wilderness. 

We can wander together with love, kindness and common sense. We can wash our hands, share resources, and check on our neighbors. We can listen to the experts, assume best intentions, and respond instead of react. 

In the days ahead, let us journey together in honesty, in community and in generosity. Let us cultivate hope that the future will be better and brighter. In this way we can emerge together on the other side of our crisis, understandably a little broken but also with a strong sense of wholeness, of shalom.

We are here. We journey with you. 

And so we continue together, kindling the lights of Shabbat, bringing light into this dark moment.  We invite you to light your own candles, as we light candles here. 

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784