Whether you completed Passover last night (as Reform and Jews in Israel did), or are ready to complete it at sundown tonight (as the rest of the Jews in the diaspora will), the memories of this year’s seder are still fresh.
The Passover story is the central story of our people, who after years leave the land of Egypt, and their narrow options, with a new leader towards a new land, a new time, and a new state of mind.
To get there, to Canaan, they had to traverse through the desert wilderness, B’midbar, a place of uncertainty…but also of opportunity. They would face new challenges, but they would also find new strengths in themselves, through one another, their faith in Judaism, and their evolving relationship with God.
Those weeks upon weeks in the Wilderness were hard. There were shortages, and sometimes questions about which direction they should go, but their newfound strength as a community, a kehillah, proved to be their salvation.
On the day that we left Egypt, commemorated through our sederim Wednesday night, our ancestors had very real decisions to make. Time was ticking. What would they take with them? Clearly, the matza we eat was both literal and symbolic of their choices. They took with them what they needed, and all luxuries were set aside. They took enough sustenance to get them through their hardship, and, dayeinu, it was enough.
What else did they take with them? Only that which was essential. That which had gotten them through previous tough times in Egypt, and that which allowed them to L’chayim, to really live life!
Their children, one in each hand…their parents and grandparents, their siblings and grandchildren…their neighbors, and friends, a hand extended for everyone who wanted to come.
They took with them their language, say our sages, language of empathy and compassion, justice and hope. Language that would sustain them…and eventually, the world, for “man cannot live on bread alone.”(Deuteronomy 8:3)
They took with them their names, say our rabbis, their true names, to recall to themselves their yiddesheh neshamah, their holy Jewish souls, which connected them to B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God to The Source of All, The Divine, both above them and inside one another.
They took with them their Judaism, say our texts, to keep on hand the wisdom to withstand existential threats, but also rituals, life cycles, prayers, and stories to empower us to do more than to just survive, but to really live!
Our Temple Emanu-El story is The Jewish Story. We embark into b’midbar, the desert Wilderness, longing to arrive back where we once started, the land of Milk & Honey. More than a place…more than a space…but a state of being…a state of mind.
This past year at Temple Emanu-El we have arrived, and surpassed, almost every significant landmark, benchmark, and category that indicates a synagogue that is truly thriving. The quality of the Torah that emanates from Temple Emanu-El, manifested in our amazingly dedicated lay-leadership; our incredibly robust programming for kids and adults; our Social Justice, our Life Long Learning; our Worship & Music; our Sacred Connections; and our Engagement with Jewish Peoplehood. All of these continue to surpass even our expectations.
The number of congregants engaged with TE, and the lives of our beloved congregants who are upheld and enriched, have continued to dramatically increase.
Make no mistake- there is still work to do. The journey is still underway. But, we are doing it with our hands extended to one another, with open hearts, and with soaring souls.
The Coronavirus, and the changed reality which we are temporarily forced to live in, is new…and hard…and presents very real dangers to our congregants and to our congregation. Dangers that are emotional, spiritual, financial…and most dire, dangers that make clear the fragility of life, itself.
Like the Israelites, we have quickly adapted, doubling-down on our strengths of connection, community, worship, and learning.
Like our ancestors leaving Egypt, we will leave no one behind, or forgotten, who wants to continue with us.
Am Yisrael Chai- The Jewish people live! – is now our mantra. In some ways, Temple Emanu-El was built for this challenge, these Corona days.
We bring with us, into these ‘physically distant’ weeks, that which we need…even if it is not everything that we could want:
-Enough sustenance to get by…
-Our family, friends, and community that make Temple Emanu-El sacred to us…
-Our language of empathy & compassion, justice & hope…
-Our names, given to us each, in moments of sacredness, reminding us of the connections of strength and holiness that pulse through our veins…
-Our traditions, life cycles, rituals, and prayers to get us through these tough times, but also to remind us how to really l’chayim, to live life to the fullest…
And, there is one more thing that we bring with us; essential as a mountain vista to show us what is surely still to come.
When forced to choose what to bring out of Egypt, despite the pressure of their situation, Miriam and the women brought their timbrels.
Despite the stress and feelings of desperation, they brought with them musical instruments meant to be tapped and chimed, clashed and rung, to the rhythm of dancing feet in celebration.
They knew, those Israelite women, that the time would soon come again when we would be able to gather together to dance, and sing, and jump, and thrive…in celebration…with gratitude…in joy.
Those timbrels packed were tangible symbols…of hope.
We will get through this, my friends, with no one left behind.
We have the collective wisdom; the tools; the will of spirit; the faith in one another; and Temple Emanu-El’s continued commitment to be a ray of light in a world that can seem very dark.
May God hear our prayers, and may we hear our prayers, to continue this journey started long ago, towards a place, a space, and a state of mind that we can all call…Shalom.
Kayn Yihiyeh ratzone, May it be God’s will.