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Dvar Torah Vayakhel-Pekudei 5780

Shalom Chevrei:

I thought you might want to have a look at Friday’s D’var Torah. It was a beautiful Shabbat, and I urge you, if you can, to join us on YouTube this Friday at 6:30 pm and Saturday at 11:00 am. If you cannot, because you don’t have a home computer and/or Internet, please let me know, and we’ll find a way to include you. I don’t want anyone to miss you.

Stay well! And struggle on!

Dvar Torah Vayakhel-Pekudei 5780

This Shabbat, we encounter the double portion Vayakhel-Pekudei. The word vayakhel has to do with the formation of community: “And Moses made a congregation of the whole Israelite community.” But knowing its just not enough to name them as a congregation, Moses also calls that community into action: “These are the things that God has commanded you.” So at its heart, our Jewish community, our Emanuel Congregation, is a community of action - a community that makes and remakes itself.

The Torah underscores such creative effort in Exodus 35:2: “For six days, you shall work but on the seventh day you will have Shabbat, a day of complete rest, holy to God." So here we are STILL as a community - here today and in the days ahead. Obviously, it’s different. Here we are - together in a VIRTUAL sense but our bonds are NO LESS real.

It’s been a strange and difficult week, hasn’t it? Our lives are shifting fast, and the road ahead is unclear. But thank God for Shabbat. From this moment of repose, we have time to celebrate what is good, to reflect on what is difficult, to rest for a few precious hours, and to renew our strength for the uncertain path ahead - to figure out how we are going to work and rest and live and flourish.

Naturally, it will come as no surprise when I say this is really an unprecedented time in our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly changing our daily realities. It’s unsettling, to be sure.

But, it’s also an opportunity for us to stay connected - to strengthen the bonds of our community and to engage in caring acts. And this moment is also one of invitation - to be creative and thoughtful, to find light in the gaps that are quickly filling up our lives and rapidly creating a new normal that is surely difficult to embrace.

As a Jewish community - as a human community - we are linked together in these unique moments. We are linked with each other locally, nationally, and globally with common challenges and, perhaps, shared destinies. Indeed, this moment is mind-boggling and breathtaking but it’s also a summons that WE NEED EACH OTHER. And given the mitzvah of Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba’zeh, which (in translation) calls us to mutual responsibility for one another - and taking a cue from the wisdom of contemporary Reform thought - there is no doubt in my mind this moment calls us to greater awareness that we must be here for each other.

And so, chevrei, I remind you once again that our Emanuel Congregation is a community of action - a collective force for good that makes and remakes community however necessary, wherever necessary, and whenever necessary. What that means in real time is while our building at 5959 North Sheridan may be closed for now, Emanuel Congregation remains open always - open as a virtual bridge between us - a source of active and ongoing connection that draws us near with an increased sense of community and commitment - a commitment to interact; to talk; to engage; to share; to laugh; to cry; to counter boredom; to discover something fresh and new. And then to make life and loss matter. To confront uncertainty. To walk together in this valley of shadows. And, to rediscover sunshine in the rain.

Of course, these commitments call us all into action in new ways - in ways that may be, for our own health and safety, virtual and digital and electronic - but in ways that are no less real and no less rich. To that end, we embark on a new initiative: Walking Together: Making Community. Walking Together: Making Community is a spiritual initiative designed to help us confront uncertainty and fear in pursuit of healing and wholeness - and building and strengthening community. As such, we will experiment with a number of virtual, online activities for everyone, adults and children alike. And, we must, must, must seize this moment to create a Chesed Team to spread kindness and love and care and grace - even virtually. We’ll keep you posted on upcoming activities that will begin as soon as this week.

Chevrei, as we stand in the novel and growing gaps of our lives, I hope we’ll see through the very darkness a beautiful light of possibility. May we work to redefine our lives with new, and, I pray, enduring purpose and meaning. May it be God’s will. Kain yehi ratzon! Shabbat shalom!

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