A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Berkman

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman

Shabbat Shalom! I look forward to being with you for services this evening. Shabbat has been such a welcome anchor in time during this strange and amorphous time. Many of us feel adrift in a sea of days strung together without the boundaries of our commute to work, or our kids going to school, or sports practices or games, or our weekly dinner with friends, or whatever else filled our calendars. In February, I began keeping track of my busy family’s activities on a dry-erase calendar affixed to our refrigerator. And then a couple of weeks after life as we know it was turned upside down, I realized I should erase what was no longer relevant, and left the calendar hanging up, its mostly empty-space a reminder of both the blessing and the challenge of the far-more-open, though very busy and full, days.

Time right now can feel like a vast and strange wilderness – we don’t know when we will reach the promised land of being to connect in person in the simplest ways without worrying about the threat of the novel coronavirus. During this period in the Jewish calendar of counting the Omer, the days between Passover and Shavuot, we are called to symbolically count our days as we march from slavery in Egypt to revelation at Mount Sinai. Though counting the Omer was never my favorite or, admittedly, my most-practiced ritual, I have been surprised by how powerful and meaningful the simple act of counting the days toward Shavuot has been for me this year as I have fulfilled this mitzvah each night. So many of us find a sense of structure and calm by planning ahead – and yet the coming days and weeks and months are not “plannable” in the way they once were. So much is contingent, with so many variables to consider and so many unknowns. Many people have told me that the biggest challenge of this time has simply been not knowing when it will end. When we count the Omer, we have a concrete goal in mind. No matter what our physical distancing requirements are, we will arrive at Sinai! The Jewish calendar marches on, unfazed by the restrictions of the physical world; we have seen with so many Zoom Passover seders and our upcoming Tikkun Zoom Shavuot, that we can and we will rise to meet the moment with robust observance and community and joy even if we can’t be together in person.

On Shavuot, we remember and re-enact and celebrate the receiving of wisdom to help guide our lives, to help center and ground us no matter what uncertainties and challenges we face. One of the key pieces of wisdom in our Torah is that we must carve out time for rest. Shabbat is built into the fabric of creation, one of the very first things created and the first thing called “holy.”

Practices that ground us in the flow of time and make us aware of the passing of time are so necessary now. I’ve been trying to take a walk every day over the past 9 weeks, and I am amazed by how much I am noticing in the outside world – the subtle changes in the trees, from bare to budding to full flowering with lush green leaves. It is amazing what we can notice simply by looking up at the trees or down at the ground.

Mindfulness is one of the gifts of pausing from our daily business and busy-ness, but our tradition teaches that it is not only human beings who need to rest. Animals and even the land itself, as we learn in this week’s Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai, also need a Shabbat. We read this week that when the Israelites enter the Promised Land, “…Six years you may sow your field and prune your vineyard and gather the crops. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of the Lord. You shall not sow your field , nor prune your vineyard; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.” What an amazing thought: just as people are not meant to live in an endless cycle of production and consumption, so too the land needs some time to “just be” (or to “chillax,” as my kids might say.)

Most of you have seen the photos of the remarkable ways the earth has begun to heal from the devastating effects of climate change as societies around the globe have had to take an enforced and unwelcome rest from production and consumption. The air is so clear that the Himalayas can be seen once again from Northern India; without boats to scare them off and pollute the waters, marine creatures are swimming merrily through the canals of Venice; in a small seaslandscapingide town center in Wales, goats have come to hang out and munch on the landscaping, and on a normally busy South African road, a pride of lions was recently seen taking a nap.

This week, we will have the chance to learn about the effects of the pandemic on climate change. Please join us this Wednesday, May 20, at 7 pm for a Zoom discussion (members can login and go here for Zoom link): “A Recovering World: Will the Covid-19 Pandemic Slow the Climate Crisis?” sponsored by our Social Action committee. Our featured speaker will be Kelly Gallagher, Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy at the Fletcher School of Tufts University. We are hoping this will generate further discussion on what each of us can do individually, and what we can do as a community, to combat climate change.

Also on the subject of time: starting next week, Rabbi Schaefer and I will be offering weekly appointment times for folks simply to come and talk with us, in 15 or 30 minute slots, using an app called calendly. You can make an appointment by simply clicking here for Rabbi Berkman, and here for Rabbi Schaefer.

I’m so grateful that though we aren’t in our building, we are together along this journey through the pandemic wilderness, and I am confident that together we will reach new heights of wisdom and insight as our ancestors received wisdom at Mt Sinai, and then we will continue onward to the Promised Land.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Berkman