Rosh Hashanah 5781

Rosh Hashanah 5781

Adapting

Living with the pandemic is an ongoing challenge. Changes in our lives have affected relationships and altered how and where we do our work, study and pray. It has not been easy. The story of Abraham’s concubine, Hagar, provides a perspective during these days of trial and challenge.

The first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Torah selection includes the story of Abraham’s banishment of Hagar together with their son, Ishmael. They are dispatched to the desert with only bread and water.

Wandering in the vast wasteland, their water soon gives out. Overcome by thirst and dehydration, a weeping Hagar, awash in self-pity, collapses opposite an immobilized Ishmael. It is then that an angel of God calls her to open her eyes to behold the well of water within her sight. She and Ishmael drink, fill the bottle of water and continue on their journey. They successfully exit from the desert to build new lives.

Hagar survived by transcending her self-pity. Surviving the pandemic likewise requires overcoming the tendency to be immobilized by the challenges of the moment. The human capacity to adapt to trying circumstances and difficult situations is an amazing blessing, that can be neutralized, however, by self-pity.

Face masks are uncomfortable and social distancing seriously compromises the experience of intimacy. We have, however, discovered the power of Zoom and other technologies to enable us to convert our homes to office workspace, classrooms, prayer sites and most significantly, into virtual venues for family gatherings, for both simcha and sadness. By successfully overcoming the Hagar response we have transcended much of the pain, frustration and isolation caused by the pandemic.

Our Synagogues and Temples have proven to be innovative in adapting to the many limitations that are a consequence of the pandemic. High Holiday services will be different this year, but they will nonetheless be inspiring and meaningful. May the prayers that our lives speedily return to normal be fulfilled, and may the strength and resolve demonstrated during this crisis be an ongoing source of inspiration for us all.

From the holy city of Jerusalem, my best wishes for a Shanah Tovah U’Metukah, a year of blessings, good tidings and of health.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Shofetim 5780

Shofetim 5780

Life Matters

Justice Justice shall you pursue… (Deuteronomy 16:18)

If one is found slain… Lying in the field and it is not known who has slain him… The elders of the city nearest the slain man shall wash their hands and say our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it… (ibid 21:1, 7)

Moses in his final discourses to the Israelites instructs them to build a just and moral society in the Promised Land they are poised to enter. He challenges them with three words in the third verse of this week’s Torah portion: Tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice justice shall ye pursue.

If a man is found slain in the field and it is not known who has slain him, a just society assures the safety of all in its midst. Life matters even when the identity of the victim is unknown. To pursue justice is not solely justice for the residents of the community or for its privileged members, the pursuit of justice demands embracing the underprivileged, the stranger, the “other.” It’s an ongoing task requiring commitment, initiative and determination. Society is to be proactive in establishing and maintaining the highest standards of righteousness and integrity.

If an apparent victim of violence, is found in the field i.e. not within the boundaries of any community, it’s easy to dismiss it as another unsolved crime, but not so in this instance. Here all the elders of the city closest to where the body is found must gather at the nearest “mighty stream” with a one-year-old heifer and engage in a profound rite. They are to break its neck and then washing their hands in the brook proclaim their innocence by reciting, “Our hands not shed this blood.”

The Talmud notes it is inconceivable that the elders committed this crime. Why then this profession of innocence? This was to proclaim that this stranger did not enter their city only to be denied hospitality and departed without provisions and an escort to guide and protect him on his way. The elders speaking for their community were affirming that the stranger’s life was of consequence. Life matters. All life matters even that of the stranger. The pursuit of justice demands we be concerned about the welfare and safety of the outsider and “other.”

This ancient rite is rooted in the Biblical and Rabbinic teachings that the stance of “live and let live” it is contrary to the obligation to be proactive in the pursuit of justice. We are mandated to assume responsibility for the safety of others and that basic needs of food, shelter and security are assured to all.

This yesteryear’s rite unfolded at the banks of a raging stream, a metaphor developed at a later age by the prophet Amos who portrayed “justice welling up as water and justice as a mighty stream.” He framed an eternal challenge to nurture justice and to make it a powerful and ever living force in our communal and personal lives.

This ceremony of bygone days is no longer practiced, but like a mighty stream its message continues to flow focusing us on pursuing justice and affirming that life matters.

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

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Devarim (Shabbat Hazon) 5780

Devarim (Shabbat Hazon) 5780

He Bent the Arc

In the first chapter of Deuteronomy, the fifth of the Five Books of Moses that we begin reading this Shabbat, Moses praises Caleb for his courage and his faith. Forty years earlier he was one of the twelve men dispatched by Moses to scout out the Promised Land. Ten of the twelve lauded the beauty and fertility of the land but bemoaned that the imposing Canaanite cities and its well-trained warriors would be impossible to overcome. The report sparked a rebellion against Moses and God.

Caleb undaunted by the mass hysteria silenced the people with the assurance, “Have no fear of the people of the country for the Lord is with us.” The agitated community would have pelted him with stones had not the presence of the Lord made itself felt.

The rebellion sealed the fate of the generation of the Exodus. Other than Caleb and Joshua all over twenty years of age would perish during a forty-year trek in the desert; the children and grandchildren would cross the Jordan into Canaan. Forty years had passed, and Moses, prior to his own departure from the scene, recounts with admiration Caleb’s bravery in confronting the mob and assuring them that with God’s help they would prevail.

For Moses, Caleb was a profile in courage. His faith in God and in the destiny of the people fired his courage. Regrettably, his peers were not so blessed.

I first met John Lewis in 1986 when he was the underdog candidate for Congress. We met for a morning cup of coffee, and I was impressed by his candor and humility. His leadership role in the civil rights movement was well known, and he was widely respected as a champion for human rights issues.

He narrowly won that election and served in Congress for over 30 years until his recent death. He quickly became the conscience of the Congress and was well not only a voice for justice for the African-American community. He spoke up on behalf of Soviet jury and for the State of Israel.

Some years ago, the Congregation had a one day mission to visit the National Holocaust Museum in DC. I contacted John Lewis and invited him to meet with us in the Museum’s rotunda. He graciously accepted and spoke with great sensitivity about the Holocaust and the challenge of quashing evil before it takes permanent root. He ended with the affirmation of “Never Again.” We sensed had there been individuals with John’s passion for justice and with his courage to speak truth to power the Third Reich might not have taken root in Germany.

I had the honor introducing him at a Rabbinical Assembly convention in Atlanta. He was enthusiastically received by my colleagues for his unyielding opposition to prejudice based on religion, color, or ethnicity.

I was present at the Governor’s mansion to celebrate the publication of his biography, Walking With The Wind. In his talk, John reflected on the time that he applied for a library card in Alabama was turned down When he grew up the government was all too often an enemy of the people of color. His presence at the mansion of the Governor of a historic Southern State was significant, but there was still a long road ahead in the ongoing challenge of bending the arc of history toward justice.

It’s an American story. This son of a sharecropper in rural Alabama rose to be a leader in national and state government. Yet he never backed away from his deep-seated commitment to speak truth to power. He was rightly called the conscience of the Congress; more appropriately, he was the conscience of so many of us. This modern-day Caleb awakened every morning to begin a new day to continue his life work of “bending the arc of history toward justice.”

Completing this task is more than a forty-year trek. It’s an ongoing mission to arrive at the day when “Justice shall well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24) May he rest in peace.

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

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

*The haftara or prophetic selection on the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av is the first chapter of Isaiah that begins with the words Hazon Yeshayahu, the vision of Isaiah.(Hence the designated name of Shabbat Hazon.) In this chapter the prophet mourns that the faithful city (Jerusalem) that once was ”filled with justice and where righteousness dwelt… they (now) do not judge he case of the orphan and the widow’s cause never reaches them.” This powerful chapter is a fitting the segue into the annual Black Fast that this year begins on Wednesday night.

Pinchas 5780

Pinchas 5780

"Men"

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson died. I suspect that he regarded the Declaration with its immortal words he crafted as the most significant monument to his life and labors, far more than monuments of stone or bronze.

Did Jefferson a Virginia patrician and slaveholder really believe that all men are created? Could he have been totally unaware of the overt contradiction between enslaved Africans and their white masters and oppressors? Did he not realize that “men” excluded women and that gender inequality was the norm? Was Jefferson a hypocrite whose way all life contradicted his inspiring rhetoric? My sense is that for him and his peer’s “men” was a generic term that excluded people of color and women.

Was the story to end here that efforts to stamp out his memory by destroying appropriate monuments and statues are not only understandable but even defensible. Yet what Jefferson bequeathed to us in the Declaration’s preamble is a canvas upon which later generations have continued to expand our understanding of “men.” It’s been a painful and all too slow process, but ultimately the slaves were freed and given the dignity of being regarded as “men.” It took well over a century for the suffragettes to him achieve their goal of gender equality.

George Washington was also a slaveholder, yet our first president refused a third term, thereby affirming that in electing a President the nation was not crowning a king. Jefferson, Washington and virtually the entire generation created the basic structure of the United States and set us out upon the task to fashion a social order that continually expands our perception of “men.”

We are regrettably not yet a perfect society that is totally inclusive to all. The mantra Black Lives Matter is a reminder that we have yet to fully expand “men” to embrace every one of us.

Following the French Revolution an empowered citizenry resorted to the guillotine to behead former oppressors in those suspected of opposing the new regime. The current frenzy to behead statues and destroyed monuments that memorialize proponents of racism and exclusion. Yet there is an important distinction between the founders and defenders of the Confederacy that in its defense of slavery sought to abort the union and the generation of the founders.

Despite their obvious limitations and perspectives, with their affirmation of the equality of all “men” they set us on the journey to create a more perfect union. The glorious history of our nation is in its determination to continually redefine and broaden “men” to include us all. Obviously and regrettably we are not there yet, but the arc of history continues to bend and to expand to attain total inclusiveness.

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

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Korach 5780

Korach 5780

The Desert's Populist

Vayikach Korach (and Korach took…) are the opening words of this week’s Torah portion without any reference to what was taken. An insightful Midrash suggests that he took “himself.”

Korach, Moses’ first cousin, was talented, articulate and ambitious. It was toward the end of the 40-year trek in the desert, and the Israelites were restive, fatigued and unsure of their future. Most of the adult generation that had witnessed the Exodus was now gone. The sameness of life in the desert was terribly burdensome, and the stated goal of conquest and settlement of the Promised Land was still an unrealized dream.

Korach, sensing the increasing disillusionment with Moses, openly challenged him. With the support of a cadre of elders he took himself (i.e. he raised himself up as the champion of the people). He was the classic prototype of the populist, thundering, “All of the people are holy, and why have you raised yourself over us all?” He pictured Moses as an elitist, while describing himself as a true man of the people.

Korach made his move shortly after Moses was challenged by his two older siblings, Aaron and Miriam, who insisted that they too were worthy of directly hearing God’s words. The Divine response was that Moses had two sterling qualifications: he was the most upright of God’s people and yet the most humble.

Korach’s attempt ultimately failed. His true character came to light when he spurned Moses’ offer to meet and hopefully reach a compromise possibly creating a new status quo in which he might have a significant role. He perceived Moses’ humility as a weakness, paying scant attention to his basic and admirable integrity. It was this hubris that led to Korach’s downfall. In the Bible’s words, “the earth swallowed him up.” The force of this description is that he disappeared from the scene as if consumed by the very environment he sought to dominate.

The Bible’s magic is in its grasp of human nature. It tells us of Cain’s envy of Abel that led to the terrible act of fratricide, the ongoing reality of sibling rivalry and family disharmony, the excessive appetite of kings and leaders, the corruption of the cult by venal priests and the stranglehold of the “haves” over the “have-nots.”

Korach’s burning ambition to court popular support to achieve his personal goal is obviously not a solitary incident in human history. This manipulation has been replicated to this very day, all too often with disastrous consequences for the targeted community, society or nation.

Excessive ego is an accepted characteristic of a leader. He/she must be confident in the ability to assure the populace’s welfare. Moses’ total humility, while one-of-a-kind, and his total integrity are ongoing challenges before every aspiring leader. These two divine criteria of unflinching honesty and a healthy dose of humility are a challenge for each of us, and certainly for the men and women who aspire to leadership.

The leader who insists he can do no wrong, who over and again demonstrates that it’s all about me is tragically an anti-Moses and as a contemporary disciple of Korach deserves to be replaced.

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

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

(POST) Shavuot 5780

(Post) Shavuot 5780

From Prologue to Epilogue

The Book of Ruth, read in the synagogue during Shavuot, is at first glance a simple and heartwarming story of two widows, Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. The opening verse sets it “when the judges judged” (Ruth 1:1). The Book of Judges describes a fractured Israel with each tribe fending for itself, and suffering from inadequate and, often irresponsible, leadership. When Naomi decided to return to Judea, Ruth insisted upon accompanying her. She opted to leave her native land, Moab, to settle in Judea.

Mired in poverty, Ruth set forth to join others in gleaning from crops that were not harvested. She is noticed and befriended by Boaz a kinsman and successful landowner. In short order they decide to marry, but not before he follows the accepted procedure that gave a closer kinsman the responsibility and the right to marry her first. She ultimately conceives and gives birth to a son. The book concludes with the genealogy that her grandson, Yishai (Jesse) begot David (ibid 4:22). This is the David who as king unified the tribes and established its capital in Jerusalem. The book can be viewed as a manual on how to move from the “prologue” of the fractured nation to the “epilogue” of David’s birth foretelling its unification.

While not a complete blueprint it highlights two vital steps. The first is that Ruth a Moabite woman was welcomed into the community, as the Torah commands, “be kind to the stranger for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It’s a challenge to be empathetic to the newcomer and emphasizes the value of a united community.

Abraham Lincoln in his plea for unity at Gettysburg proclaimed that a nation cannot exist half slave and half free. At this very moment we are reminded that peace eludes us as long as race and skin color divide us. It is a plague with the inevitable potential for violence that our nation experienced all too often in the past and that tragically confronts us at this very moment.

The second value is respect for and acceptance of the law. Before Boaz and Ruth could marry, he had to defer to a kinsman closer to the family. Boaz convenes the required quorum of ten to witness that he had fulfilled all requirements and taken the necessary steps prior to marrying Ruth. The book affirms that Boaz conformed to “such that was the practice in Israel” (ibid 4: 7).

It’s incumbent upon all to comply with the law with no one being above it. Boaz had wealth and status and yet he was prepared to sublimate his personal agenda to the established practices of his time. A basic American value demands accountability not only from citizens who have the right to assemble peacefully, but also from those in power: the police and the political leadership.

Ruth is obviously not a complete treatise of transitioning from “prologue to epilogue.” It clearly affirms, however, the vital challenge to create a social order that embraces respect and the acceptance of the humanity of the “other” with the caveat that without mutual respect for the law, peace will elude us.

May our tragically divided nation succeed in completing the process from “prologue to epilogue” thereby enabling peace and harmony in our midst to become a blessed reality.

From Jerusalem my fervent prayer that we will soon see the dawn of the better tomorrow.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Bamidbar 5780

Bamidbar 5780

Nothing is Forever

The construction of the Mishkan is the subject of the final chapters of the book of Exodus. The role of the Kohanim (priests) and the descriptions of the sacrifices offered in the desert sanctuary (the Mishkan) occupy the opening chapters of the book of Leviticus. The all opening chapters of Numbers, this week’s Torah reading ,is a manual on how the Mishkan was to be disassembled prior to Israelites breaking camp and moving to another location. There are specific details regarding the role of the Levites and the Kohanim in caring for its sacred objects.

The Mishkan, while portable, served as the central sanctuary not only in the desert, but for many years following settlement of the Israelites in the Promised Land. When David established his kingdom in Jerusalem he turned his attention to building a permanent house to the glory of God.

This dream was undertaken by his son, Solomon, who spared no expense to create this magnificent holy temple that would be the eternal symbol of God’s relationship with his eternal people. In 586 BCE Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of Babylonia then the world’s most powerful nation put an end to the dream. He conquered Judea and reduced Solomon’s glorious Temple to ashes.

Nebuchadnezzar perceived himself as standing astride of all humanity. He felt chosen by God to rule the world. His chief advisor was Daniel who at a young age was among the captives taken to Babylon following the conquest of Judea and the destruction of the temple. He received special training, was renamed Belteshazzar and ultimately became Nebuchadnezzar’s most trusted counselor. Chapter 4 in the book that bears his name records Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that foretold his loss of the throne

This dire message unsettled the king, but the book continues, “At the end of twelve months he was walking in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon he spoke and said, is not this a great Babylon that I have built is a royal resident’s by the might of my power and the honor of my Majesty?” (Daniel 4: 26, 27)

Despite the dire prediction Nebuchadnezzar held fast to this conviction that what he had built was indestructible and that his rule could not be challenged. He was however quickly disabused of this notion as described in the next verse. “While the word was in the king’s mouth a voice fell from heaven saying o king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom is departed from you And this did come to pass ” (v.28).

Even the most powerful of all humans in the most glorious and sturdy of their works cannot withstand the passage of time. Yet those who aspire to greatness, achieve great power and create “lasting” monumental attesting to their achievements, cannot and will not withstand the vicissitudes of time.

Nebuchadnezzar was stripped of power by a divine edict. Even those who hold great power believing as did Louis XIV, l’etat ces’t moi – I am the state, are ultimately moved from their high perch. Power is lost or shifts through revolution of the masses, palace intrigue, assassination and democratic elections. This should be a sobering thought to those who are convinced that their power remains unchallenged and unaffected by the passage of time.

For Nebuchadnezzar the messenger of his fallibility was the heavenly voice. In our day might it be the dreaded COVID-19 virus?

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

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Bhar-Bechukotai 5780

Bhar-Bechukotai 5780

Now In Dire Straits

Three times in this week’s Torah portion repeats the a Hebrew phrase is repeated: ki yamuch achicha – when your brother is in dire straits i.e. severe financial reversals is now poverty-stricken, the community is to create a safety net to help him weather this terrible reversal. The Torah teaches us that concern for the poor is a responsibility assumed not only by the community but also by individuals.

Dire straits is an apt description of the current condition of large segments of the workforce and population caused by the pandemic. The trillions of dollars Congress has voted to help ease the pain is consistent with the Torah’s mandate to create social networks to meet the basic needs of those in dire straits. From the vantage point of our tradition this is both a responsibility and a privilege.

Also included in this week’s Torah portion is chapter 26, the tochecha, a frightening forecast of plagues and reversals that would reduce and destroy even the most powerful and successful societies. The cause of these scourges is the failure to embrace and integrate the Torah’s moral imperatives in the society’s moral fabric.

Here too safety nets are essential. Societies that are sensitive to the needs of the common good reflect the presence of Divine Providence. It is also clear during this terrible pandemic that it is essential that safety measures nets be developed to help flatten the curve and create the herd immunity essential to our survival. Hence the prescription of the experts: social distancing, lock-downs, incessant hand washing and yes facial masks. These are the strands in the social network to provide a measure of protection until there is the vaccine that neutralizes this plague.

Inevitably there are push backs against these safety measures. Social distancing requirements separate families and friends from one another; our houses of worship are empty and our sports stadiums are vacant. Fortunately, the availability of Skype and Zoom make possible visual contact with loved ones and virtual participation in a simcha or in a shiva’s zoom room. While these lack the intimacy of the human touch, they are reasonable alternatives under our present circumstances.

Health experts insist that since the virus is airborne, social distancing and facial masks are essential to protect ourselves and others. The distancing is at times very difficult and the masks are uncomfortable and unattractive. While the vast majority accepts its role in embracing these needed networks, the violent protests of the small minority endanger all of us who share the public square. These rips in our safety network by an enraged minority are sadly endorsed and often encouraged by some leaders who are the models for this resistance that endangers us all.

Fortunately the majority has opted, as of this moment, to embrace and live by the demands of the social network that will hopefully help us remain healthy until the blessed day when the vaccine becomes a reality. In this pandemic we are all cast into dire straits, and it is only our willingness and capability to endure the discomfort of social distancing and masks that will enable us to witness the day we no longer will live with the fear of the virus.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing, and Chodesh Tov a month blessed with good tidings.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Tazaria Metzora Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

Tazria Metzora Shabbat Rosh Chodesh 5780

The Enemy Is Us

Israel like many nations is in lock-down. We do venture out of our homes to acquire food, medication or medical attention. After so many weeks we have adapted to these limitations on our movement and quarantine has become somewhat more bearable thanks to Zoom, Skype and other technologies.

The Torah reading for this Shabbat encompasses chapters that focus upon individuals afflicted with tzara’at, commonly translated as leprosy. While the nature of the disease is not certain it was highly feared as infectious, and diagnosed individuals were placed in quarantine. Today we are plagued with COVID-19, the extremely  infectious virus that is hopefully being managed with the fourteen-day isolation of individuals diagnosed with the disease and the social distancing measures imposed by law.

In this context, that this past Tuesday we observed the annual Holocaust Memorial Day. The road to Auschwitz was paved by a social virus: the Nazi fixation on Aryan purity and the irrational conviction that Jewish inferiority was contagious and a threat to society. This virus nourished by Antisemitism led to the Nuremberg laws, the isolation of Jews, and the many restrictions on Jewish movement and normal existence were a prelude to the barbarity and genocide of Auschwitz. The ultimate goal was to create a world order that was Judenrein, cleansed of the virus of the Jew. In reality, however, the virus was the Aryan insistence of its racial superiority and the threat “outsiders” posed to its perfect society.

The current pandemic is a reminder that viruses are communicable, and when not controlled afflict any and all. This is true regarding Antisemitism as well as all populist perceptions of outsiders whether ethnic, racial, religious or foreign-born as being inferior and a threat to creating and preserving the perfect society.

Pogo was a daily comic strip syndicated to American newspapers from 1948 until 1975. Set in the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern United States, it chronicled the adventures of Pogo, an opossum, and the many other t denizens of the swamp. The strip satirized the human condition as well as McCarthyism, communism, segregation, and, eventually, the Vietnam War. It’s probably best remembered today for Pogo’s environmentalist lament, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

No society is as healthy as it would wish. The inevitable viruses that threaten our physical health often respond to the vaccines and medications that are created and developed in our ongoing and often very frustrating war with Mother Nature. Vaccines that immunize against the social viruses that demonize and target members of other social, ethnic, racial, religious or political entities sadly continue to elude us. The source of this virus is “us.”

The prime defense against COVID-19 is social distancing. Separating ourselves from others reduces the rate of infection, flattens the curve and hopefully creates relatively safe space as we await the new vaccine. Neutralizing the social virus, however, requires opening ourselves up to the many “others” in our midst. It’s a formidable challenge to overcome the human tendency to erect and maintain walls of separation and segregation that reinforce the demonization, prejudice and discrimination that are the source of much of the violence and instability that threaten our society’s well-being.

Whenever we lapse into perceiving the outsider as a virus threatening the health of our society, it is constructive to recall Pogo’s ever relevant observation, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing, and Chodesh Tov, a month blessed with good tidings.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

Tzav Shabbat HaGadol 5780

Tzav Shabbat HaGadol 5780

L'Shana Hab'ah - The Coming Year

Pesach is a holiday of hope. Our enslaved Israelite ancestors despaired of a better life. Even after Moses appeared on the scene with his assurance that God had sent him to liberate them, the message fell upon deaf ears because “their spirits were crushed by cruel bondage.” (Exodus 6:9). Following the tenth plague our liberated ancestors began a journey to the Promised Land where they would live in freedom and peace. Yet all did not go well on the march . Time and again there were new dangers and frustrations: at the Red Sea, with the ever present concern about water and the unchanging diet of manna which they regarded as “miserable food” (Numbers 21:5).

Life’s ever present cycle of despair and hope is captured in the startling passage, “In every generation enemies rose up to destroy us, but the Holy One Blessed be He saved us from their hands.” It’s a stark reminder that life be it for nation or individual, is never a constant flow of happiness and joy. Inevitably failures and setbacks darken every life. Yet we humans are endowed with amazing adaptability to find the will and strength to move from darkness to light.

This year of the Coronavirus plague, the night of Passover will be different. Illness, quarantine, isolation and social distancing dictate that the Seder, the wonderful family reunion of three or four generations seated around the table, will be sorely missed. Many will forge virtual togetherness via Zoom or Skype; others will celebrate with spouses or live ins; and far too many are destined to celebrate a solo Seder.

In this dark and difficult period plagued with illness and death, with isolation and loneliness, with devastating economic impact, may Elijah’s Cup with its faith and assurance of tomorrow’s better day bless us with the strength and forbearance now demanded of us. L’shana haba’ah, next year and in years to come, may we celebrate our Seders as we have in the past.

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

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar

*This Shabbat is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath. According to tradition it was on the Shabbat prior to the Exodus that the Israelites were instructed to take a lamb, a symbol of deity to Egyptians, into their homes, in preparation for the Pesach sacrifice, thereby demonstrating faith in God. The haftara, chosen from the writings of the prophet Malachi, makes reference to God sending Elijiah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of redemption. Hence the special name and designation of this Shabbat.