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Toward Shabbat: Bereshit

When my children and I walked home from shul on Simhat Torah, I felt exhaustion and relief deep in my bones. It’s been three years since I danced that hard and experienced the power, magnetism, and nourishment of what it means to culminate this High Holy Day season with such joy in the community. And while I can’t jump as high or dance as long as I did when I was younger, what I absorb in my body and soul from this season seems to grow and change and touch me more deeply. I am continually humbled by the love I feel for the tradition in creating such a pilgrimage. I am also enormously grateful for experiencing this journey with the BJ community, all the more so after two-and-a-half years of little community in person.

What a gift…

   To sing together the beautiful piyut Ahot Ketana on Erev Rosh Hashanah; to say goodbye to the curses of the past year and welcome in the blessings of the new one.

   To listen to the piercing sound of the shofar and the intensity of everyone holding their breath as the tekiah gedolah (final shofar blast) penetrates our very being.

   To look out at the kahal (community) and see the faces of so many, most of whom we haven’t seen for so very long, and to feel the preciousness of community that doesn’t dull even after the passing of time—while also remembering and missing those members of the community who haven’t been able to return yet or do not walk this earth any longer.

  To listen to the unimaginable stories of the Shoah, this year told by Michael Yoeli and Sherry Kohn, and to be reminded of the incredible resilience that human beings have to live. 

  To touch a little bit of the Holy of Holies in the Seder Ha-Avodah service with the gorgeous rendition inspired by Ishay Ribo and to feel transported to a place that actually makes us feel we are worthy of forgiveness.

  To watch children penetrate the darkness with their light as Yom Kippur ends, symbolizing hope and the promise of the future.

  To have beautiful weather almost every day of Sukkot, and to have a sukkah overflowing with people fulfilling the mitzvah of spending time in it.

  To circle the sanctuary seven times on Hoshana Rabbah, praying to be saved and for a redeemed world overflowing with blessing, and then hitting the willows on the floor and praying that, just as the leaves fall off the branches, so too will our sins fall away and be forgiven.

Though we can’t stay in Tishrei and all its intensity forever, I pray that all that was awakened will translate into the desire and commitment to healing ourselves and healing our world.

On the  morning of Simhat Torah, our Hatan Bereshit, Matan Marder-Friedgood, began the Torah again with Bereshit. He chanted these words, which we say every Friday night:

וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכׇּל־מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה.

And God finished on the seventh day the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done (Bereshit 2:2).

With the story of creation and God resting on Shabbat, we transition out of this month of haggim back to the rhythm of the week to week, Shabbat to Shabbat.

The more that we celebrate and long for Shabbat, the more we desire to sanctify the other days of the week. Shabbat is called “the most desired of days” because it not only grants us the gift of 25 hours of intense community, prayer, song, and rest, but it also teaches us how to love the world and creation more.

Let us not allow all the power of these haggim wane. Let us build a life toward Shabbat, week to week, that will awaken in us, just as it did in God, a love of creation, the earth, and all humanity, and a commitment to make it holy.

Finally, this commitment to gratitude is why we have planned the Back Home Shabbaton at BJ—to build on the momentum of this past month of haggim and to build back again our-in person community, and all the love and glory that comes with being together. We’d love to see you there!