A Post-Purim Reflection

A Post-Purim Reflection

Shushan - From Consternation to Joy

“The city of Shushan was in consternation” (Esther 3:1).

“The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy and honor” (ibid 8:16).

The Megillah (Book of Esther) narrates Haman’s rise and fall, and the Jewish swing from despair to joy. Haman initially succeeded in convincing the King to place the fate of the Empire’s Jewish subjects in his hands. Once Haman issued the royal decree setting the date for the Empire-wide genocidal action targeting the Jews, “the King and Haman sat down to drink.” While the Jews of Shushan mourned, the entire city was “in consternation.”

Mordecai and the Jewish community publicly mourned the dire fate that awaited them. In Shushan and throughout the vast empire, Jews, engulfed in a seemingly endless black night, donned garments of mourning.

Amidst this travail, Mordecai turned to his only hope. He petitioned, cajoled, and finally convinced Esther to approach the King to plead on behalf of her people. She devised a brilliant plan that not only thwarted Haman, but led the King to hang him on the very gallows the villain had prepared for Mordecai. Then, in a speedy transition, Mordecai replaced Haman as the King’s chief advisor.

The Megillah joyfully describes how the day designated for Jewish destruction was transformed into one of glorious victory. The Jews in Shushan and throughout the Empire had “light, gladness, joy and honor.”

A beautiful Midrash, quoting the prophet Micah, “… when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light to me” (Mica 7:8) teaches that redemption unfolds slowly. It likens redemption to the darkness of night that slowly and imperceptibly transitions into dawn, the rising sun and the bright light of day. Esther skillfully strategized the series of moves that resulted in Haman’s demise. It took careful planning to transform Shushan from a city plunged in despair to one that “rejoiced and was glad.” (Esther 8:15).

It’s now more than a year that, like Shushan after Haman’s decree, the entire world has been living in a time of not merely consternation but of fear, illness, and death. Even if we have, thankfully not been infected and personally touched by the virus, the Covid has impacted our lives. It has plunged us into repeated and prolonged quarantines and isolation. It is only through Zoom and technology that we are able virtually to be with loved ones and friends in good times and bad.

It has been, and continues to be, one long dark “night,” but the rollout of vaccines has pierced the veil of darkness. We detect that morning has broken, ushering in the promise of a soon-to-be tomorrow of light. Our lives will then be brightened as we physically reach out to embrace loved ones and friends.

In the year and years to come, may we celebrate Purim in overflowing synagogues and paraphrasing the Megillah, in light, gladness and joy.

From the holy city of Jerusalem, my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Min Hameitzar

Min Hameitzar

“From the narrow places I called out, ‘Yah’, and I was answered with expansiveness” (Psalm 118).

Oh, how the last year has felt constraining and narrow. Stuck in our homes, many of us have spent the time alone or in small pods. We’ve missed hugs from loved ones and our grandchildren’s first words. There are those whom we will never hug again. Amidst the hyper-connected world, we’ve realized just how alone and isolated we have been, even before the pandemic.

But we’ve also reached an important point societally in the journey and trauma of this pandemic – we’ve, by and large, stopped telling people when we’re asked how we are, “I’m doing fine.” We’ve begun to open ourselves to the world, not always out of choice, but by necessity and by deep longing for the other. Our tradition teaches us that the brokenness can be a place of great beauty, because we’re often fully present with ourselves in those moments. To cry out is the most primal of those actions, to say “I need help” or “I really miss you” or “I really need a break – can you watch the kids?”. It’s precisely in those moments, our psalmist teaches us in this verse from Hallel, that we are answered by expansiveness.

When we allow our lives to be touched by someone else’s, for those moments we are connected to something much deeper and more expansive than we had realized previously. We are all part of the One, connected in holiness and love and our shared humanity. All we need to do is remember, as the great Carol King once sang, “all you need to do is call, and I’ll be there. ‘Cause you’ve got a friend.”

Enjoy my setting of Min Hameitzar from Psalm 118 (below), and please join us at our Passover gathering after the second seder, coming together in community to lift us out of the narrow place, if even for a few moments.

Rabbi Sam Blustin

A Reflection on One Year of the Global Covid-19 Pandemic

Light a Candle and Remember

A Reflection on One Year of the Global Covid-19 Pandemic

On March 11, 2020, the Director General of the World Health Organization declared, “We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.” Light a candle and remember.

 Tomorrow evening, March 11, 2021 President Joseph Biden will address our nation on the occasion of this grim anniversary. Light a candle and remember.

As of today, more that 525,000 Americans have died of Covid-19. Worldwide, more than 2.6 million people have perished. Zachor – Remember. Honor memories of loved ones and friends. Reflect on their legacies. Light a candle and remember.

The deaths of loved ones and friends represent our greatest losses. But we have suffered other losses… hugs and kisses and the warmth of smiles and afternoon excursions and trips to the beach and the mountains and educational opportunities… lots and lots of educational opportunities and… Light a candle and remember.

Words alone can never fully express our gratitude to all the caring people – medical personnel, those who work alongside them in hospitals, first responders and other public servants – who have risked their own health for the sake of others’ well-being. Light a candle and remember.

“Ner Adonai nishmat adam” – “The soul of each individual is the light of God” (Proverbs 20:27). In our tradition, as in other faith traditions, light is a symbol of God’s presence. That divine light illuminates the beauty of each of our souls. Some of us are thankful for the protective vaccinations we have received. Others among us anxiously look forward to their turn to be vaccinated. As, God-willing, hope and optimism take greater hold, let each of us use the divine light to genuinely illuminate our souls. Light a candle and remember.

Light a candle and act.

Rabbi Neil Sandler

One Year – Twice: A Message for Reflection

One Year - Twice

A Message for Reflection

One year! I think about what I said when Rabbi Sandler told me that I better take these warnings about some flu-like virus seriously. I distinctly remember telling him that there was no way that our country was going to ‘close down.’ And now we sit here a year later. It’s really unbelievable. Tomorrow, March 11, will mark one full year when our country and much of the world shut down. There has been tremendous loss. Many have lost loved ones who may have lived for many more years without the spread of this pandemic. Many of us have lost jobs and financial security. We have become distanced from our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Our children have lost out on their education and crucial socialization that school, afterschool programs, camp, sleepovers, birthday parties, and important Rites of Passage offer. There isn’t a single soul who hasn’t lost something. And it all happened over a period of time – over this last year. One year.

On Thursday, March 11, we mark one year since World Health Organization director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, officially declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. As with any unfolding situation, dates and times are a bit arbitrary. The first death from Covid-19 is documented in January of 2020, but March 11 is that day that much of the world lifted its eyes and noticed. As we look back, there is little we can do to reclaim the time. Many have sought ‘silver linings’ extolling opportunities that have emerged for some of us which we were able to receive with appreciation. For others, silver linings weren’t possible with death, unemployment, food and housing insecurity and many other realities abounding. Acknowledging the wide spectrum of experiences over this past year, our Jewish tradition is instructive when we look back at this last year of loss.

Judaism harnesses time as a tool for bringing the memories of the past into the future in order to create holiness and blessing. We do this every Friday night when we raise our Cos Kiddush (Cup of Blessing) to bless the day of Shabbat. In our prayer, we invoke both the experience of creation and redemption, marking the beginning of Shabbat and setting the tone of the next 25 hours. We gather together in a minyan (prayer quorum) and recite Kaddish for loved ones who no longer walk the earth beside us. Over time, we turn our great loss into a ritual for committing ourselves to the ideals and values of those who were a blessing in our life. In just a few weeks, we will be at our seder table experiencing the ultimate of ritualized history, a ceremony which has sustained and emboldened Jews through some of the most horrific realities that our world faces. All these harnessed moments, and many more, have offered our people the blessing of taking a world which often feels out of control and brings the world into partnership with the mission of the Jewish people – to mend and heal a broken world.

On Thursday, March 11 our world will observe a yahrzeit of sorts. It was a moment when we collectively realized that we were about to lose something precious. A year later, we now can articulate those losses for ourselves. For each of us that loss is different, and we experienced it at different moments throughout the year. We now mark March 11 to harness time. Not to regain what we have lost, that isn’t possible. We mark March 11 for the purpose of recommitting ourselves to the ideals and values that belonged to whatever it is we lost. As with any yahrzeit, this moment is scheduled for deep reflection and ritual action. I would encourage us all to light a candle and take a moment to remember. What was your loss? Try not to practice comparative suffering. Your loss is yours, regardless of whether it was a person, an opportunity, a friendship, or time itself. Sit with the light and explore what life might look like if we took the blessings promised from those losses and brought them into this next year. How would our life feel blessed, experience those blessings and be a blessing? There is no right or wrong way to envision the year to come. Therefore, I offer this suggestion:

Like our Shabbat candles, two flames that stand, one reflecting on the other, consider bringing a second blessing in this coming year. If the loss that you reflect on is that of a loved one, ask yourself, what was something my dearly departed used to do that was a blessing? Did they have a hobby or a task that was meaningful to them? In this coming year, bring that blessing forward twice! Whatever it is, do it for them. If you mourn the loss of your child’s (and all children’s) education – volunteer to tutor at a local school this coming year. If you have lost connections with friends and friendships that were blossoming, make it a point to either rekindle or start anew two friendships this year. We might not be able to have our time and our losses back, but we can make the year-to-come double in blessings if we harness the time and bring it all forward.

שנזכה להיות צרורה בצרור החיים
May we merit to be bound up in the bonds of life!

Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal