Friday, April 17, 2020 /23 Nisan, 5780
Parashat Sh’mini Leviticus 9:1-11:47
Just over a week ago, 200 individual accounts logged into our temple seder to celebrate the holiday of Passover. Physical isolation was no match for our yearning to be together, to relive the story of our Exodus, and to celebrate our freedom. Just as the Israelites longed for freedom, our Seders were filled with longing for the freedom to join one another in person once more.
Rituals such as Passover and Shabbat have always been significant. During this time of physical distancing, they carry an extra import. Through them, we connect with millennia of Jews who have practiced similar rituals throughout the years. Through them, we connect with millions of Jews who are participating in them today. Through them, we recognize that physically distanced though we are, socially we are blessed to be part of a vibrant Jewish community.
In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, the people gather the day after Aaron’s ordination is complete. They observe as Aaron offers sacrifices on behalf of himself and the people. They listen attentively as Aaron lifts his hands toward the people and offers them blessings. They witness as the presence of God appears before them, consuming the sacrificial offerings in a ball of fire. Suddenly, without prompt, the people shout and fall on their faces in prayer. (Leviticus 9) It is an extraordinary moment of communal and spiritual import, which words cannot adequately describe.
Ritual has the capacity to move us beyond words, and to create lasting memories which stay with us for years to come. We may not see the presence of God before us, or fall on our faces in prayer, but we have modern rituals that speak to us today.
A few weeks ago, there was a phone call in which 6,000 people joined together for words of support and comfort in the midst of this crisis. The phone call lasted an hour, but participants describe that there was one moment in particular that will stay with them, the moment the moderator unmuted everyone on the call and invited them to let out a scream. Each of the 6,000 participants heard the cry of others on the call and instantly were reminded that they are not alone.
Neither are we. This Shabbat, I invite you take part in a ritual—any ritual that speaks to you. Whether you bake challah or offer blessings over children, partners and friends, participate in tonight’s Shabbat service, or do something else entirely, I pray that these brief moments make your shabbat extra special. If you are looking for ideas, this resource may be helpful.
As my beloved teacher Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman teaches, “Ritual [has the capacity to arrange]… our life into relatively small packages of moments that matter.” This Shabbat, may we all have these moments.
Rabbi Cassi Kail