Iyyun for Vayak’hel and Shabbat HaChodesh

Cantor Sarah Sager shared  these remarks at the March 20 Shabbat Evening Service which was streamed.

It is one of my primary beliefs that the Torah always has something relevant to say to us – and most often, that guidance is found in the portion of the week in which we might be seeking wisdom.  Imagine my surprise to find that on this Shabbat of isolation, our Torah portion begins:  “And Moses gathered the People of Israel…”  The Torah seems to contradict our reality and yet, as I thought about this image of the community coming together in common purpose – in the Torah’s case, to build the mishkan, the portable Sanctuary that would represent God’s dwelling place among the people during our wandering in the dessert – it takes on a most poignant and contemporary meaning as we realize that we are acting in the most communal way possible by maintaining distance from each other.  Our experience of this week gives the very definition of community an enlarged and unexpected complexity.  We are, in addition, learning to hold more than one truth  in our minds at a time.  We must be isolated and yet, we are part of a faith community that holds each and every one of us sacred and essential and believes that together – morally, emotionally, ritually, spiritually – together, we can make a difference in this world.  And that is why each and every one of us is taking care of our individual selves and, by doing so, is taking care of our community and our world.   

Our calendar is teaching us something else this week. It is Shabbat Ha Chodesh – the Sabbath of THE month.  This is the Sabbath on which we announce that a new Hebrew month will begin during the coming week, the month of Nisan.  This is the only monthly acknowledgement that gives its name to the Shabbat on which it happens.  What is so special about the month of Nisan  It is the month in which our festival of Pesach, or Passover will take place.  I am amazed, over and over again, at how contemporary our ancient, formative story continues to be in our lives.  The very Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzraim, means the “narrow, constricted, limited” place – and it is our emergence from there into freedom that marks the journey our Passover Seder re-enacts and the beginning of our history as a people.   

Once again, at this time in our contemporary lives, we find ourselves in a narrow, limited, constricted place, yearning to be free.  With the vision of the Exodus before us, let us join hands and hearts, virtually if need be, and journey with hope, with faith, with kindness and compassion for each other, with unfaltering steps toward that Promised Land of health, strength, and faith renewed.