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Between the Wilderness and the Land Beyond

07/22/2020 09:53:48 PM


This week in the yearly Torah cycle brings us to an extremely interesting junction in relation to this moment in our pandemic experience, and to this point in our rabbi-congregation partnership.

Where we are in the Torah is in the space between the last parshah of Bemidbar or the book of Numbers called Masei, literally the “settings-out,” or journeys, and the first parshah in the book of Deuteronomy or Devarim, which goes by the same name meaning words or matters.

In the Torah scroll, the shift from one book of Torah to another is marked by the equivalent of five lines, creating a white space in which you can faintly see the etching of five horizontal rows created by a sofer, the scribe who prepares and inks the scroll - five lines worth of time, of space, of story not yet written, of story told and lost, of a pause to catch one’s breath after the many stages of the journey through the wilds of the midbar, the desert.

Upon arriving at this junction, the people stop and gather to listen to a series of discourses from their leader, Moshe. The messages include a re-affirmation of the covenantal relationship established at Sinai, and a deep dive into the structures and values needed for living well in the times ahead.

What’s the message to be gleaned as we take a deep dive, or at least an energetic swim, in our organizational waters?

Layered over the imaginative invitation of those five lines-worth of space are two important factors: the global experience of COVID-19 that has impacted how we Jew what we Jew since mid-March, along with our highly localized experience of working together since the summer of 2013.

It has been seven years since I joined Or Haneshamah as its resident rabbi. As a few of our Bart Mitzvah students know well, we learn in Parshat Behar that the seventh and eight years of a cycle call for special practices for growth, in its literal sense regarding crops and harvests, and in conceptual spheres regarding laws and social structures. As the community lets the land and its inhabitants enjoy a year-long shabbat, it is also anticipating the new planting and seeding, the new potential that emerges in year eight, launching forthcoming harvests that will nourish and sustain them during a new seven year cycle.

Even in this moment, we are taking that deep dive through the increasingly familiar medium of our screen tiles, those little rectangular images of ourselves and each other that simultaneously separate and connect, protect and expose. We’re learning, adapting and expanding into all kinds of possibilities, each from our connect-able rectangles. The energy and creativity that comes from not knowing the shape and nature of the landscape ahead all while sustaining and adapting to the moment provides fuels this work of ours, this leading and visioning.

In the name of the sages and quoting from the midrash, Rabbi Sari Laufer teaches:

“‘Be the wilderness.’ With uncertainty comes the unparalleled potential for expanding our horizons … it’s a startling image, this one of being a wilderness. It’s an image that any of us, standing on the precipice of something new and unknown, might take to heart. Am I to be trampled by uncertainty? Yes. Tread upon by anxiety? Yes. Am I also going to be open to new people, new possibilities, new adventures? Yes, yes and yes! For the rabbis teach that if we are able to do this, if we allow ourselves to be a wilderness, then Torah will be given to you as a gift. Here the sages meant Torah in its strict sense — the five books of Moses. But it includes being the possibility of and vehicle for new learning, for a new way of looking at ourselves and the world, for a different direction entirely.”

All of us – the members of this board along with all the folk in this community, all of our neighbours in our city, province, country, and by extension in the global village beyond - are poised in the white space between the wilderness and the land beyond. From this junction, with all that technology has to offer – including the marvelous ancient technology that is Torah - we can nurture our little community with attention, innovation, and a willingness to embrace what is possible.

- Rabbi Liz

Sun, January 17 2021 4 Sh'vat 5781