Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 108

May 6, 2022 (5 Iyar 5782)

Shabbat Thoughts from the Holy Land

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you well and in good cheer. We look forward to you joining us this Shabbat morning at 10:30am for our hybrid services which will take place in our sanctuary as well as on our regular zoom prayer link.

As I wrote this Reflection, I was watching the majesty of the setting sun in the Holy city of Yerushalayim, with lights gleaming off the ancient stones to create an ephemeral sparkle, as we were about to enter the Shabbat. The stores were already closed and the city’s streets had the barest of traffic. A handful of folks were still scurrying about the sidewalks, but for most, Shabbat was beginning. A holy quietude engulfed the neighborhood.

Last Shabbat, I was able to celebrate the Sabbath in Jerusalem with a group of my students from The Leffell School. For the second time in just a few months, I was able to witness them put into action much of what they have learned in school. They assembled at Yemin Moshe and chanted Kabbalat Shabbat prayers while overlooking the Old City. They engaged in Torah learning and, after each meal, they chanted (somewhat inharmoniously) special songs, or zemiroth, which honor God’s designated day of rest.

Being in Israel allowed me to reflect on the wisdom of the founder of cultural Zionism, Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg (a.k.a. Ahad HaAm), who was born in the Kiev Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine) to pious well-to-do Hasidic parents. At the age of eight, he began to teach himself to read Russian. His father, Isaiah, sent him to religious school until he was 12. When Isaiah became the administrator of a large estate in a village in the Kiev district, he moved the family there and hired private tutors for his precocious son, who excelled at his studies.

To the dismay of his parents, Ahad HaAm became critical of the dogmatic nature of traditional Orthodox Judaism, but he remained loyal to his cultural heritage, especially the ethical ideals of Judaism. In perhaps his most famous quote, Achad HaAm argued, “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

During Shabbat, I saw an entire city bring to fruition this profound quote. In Israel, the Shabbat offers an existential anchor for everyone, from secular to traditional, from Ashkenazi to Sephardic, from the politically left to the politically right, and from the well-to-do to the economically struggling. Israel is anything but homogeneous, but Shabbat, unites them all.

Perhaps, living in the Diaspora, our challenge is to make the same vision come true. Can we use this holy time to bring together all members of our community? Can we welcome those who are both religious and secular into our spiritual community and even to our Shabbat table? Can we use this Z’man Kadosh, this holy time, to exchange ideas and thoughts in a manner of appropriate civil discourse? And finally, can we use this time to make the world a place of peace, harmony, healing, connection, learning, and community?

I believe that we, as individuals and as a congregation, are up to the challenge of meeting the observation of Ahad HaAm.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
201 562 5277

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