Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 8

Friday April 24, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and managing the best you can under these trying circumstances. We continue to pray for all those effected by the virus and we certainly hope to be able to be together in person as soon as possible. Please continue to join us for our online Shabbat services which are listed below.

As you know, we are presently in the period which is referred to as the Counting of the Omer. There are forty-nine days counted from the beginning of the second evening of Passover until we reach the fiftieth day when we celebrate Shavuoth (which marks the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai).

For those of you who went to college and worked diligently or even throughout the night to complete various papers or essays, allow me to assure you that the idea of “pulling an all-nighter” actually comes from a centuries-old Shavuoth practice!

On the evening of Shavuoth, the 16th-century mystics of Safed, Israel, under the leadership of Isaac Luria, would engage in Torah study throughout the night. This Kabbalistic practice shows that, unlike the situation of our heavy-lidded ancestors at Sinai, we are ready and anxious to receive Torah. The “tikkun” is the only observance developed specifically for Shavuot.

At my synagogue in Chicago, I used to invite members of the congregation to lead various sessions of study for the assembled group. It was a fascinating way to allow those interested to take an ownership role in the learning process. I would deliberately encourage people to share their areas of expertise and relate them to a Jewish theme.

I remember one year in particular being fascinated by our presenters. One gentleman was a partner in a major law firm who had graduated from Harvard and he took an area of civil law and compared it to the Shluchan Aruch (the code of Jewish law) which discussed the same issues. One woman was an accomplished architect and she presented a power point which showed that our sanctuary was the same size as part of the design of the Temple discussed in the Tanach.

As the hour grew late, there was a great session that was offered by my friend Jen. She was into meditation years before it was popular and so she gave our group an introduction to the history of this spiritual practice. After providing context, she thought it would be great to actually attempt a group meditative exercise. Things were proceeding beautifully until I noticed my planning mistake. After all, it was 2:30 in the morning and after but five minutes of the meditative exercise, I noticed half the people in the room were literally asleep! The reason it is even more ironic is because the idea of the Tikkun is based on a Midrash which suggests that the Jewish people were sleeping at Sinai when Moshe came down to present the Tablets of the Law. We are specifically supposed to stay awake to indicate our excitement to receive God’s gift.

Well, with best intentions, that session didn’t quite work out the way I had planned but it did give me valuable insight into the work of others in the community. Ultimately, it does not matter what your area of expertise is- each of us has a unique take on Torah, on Jewish life and on Jewish ritual. When we continue to share our ideas, reflections and viewpoints, we all bring the Tradition to life and enrich our collective experience.

I pray that as we manage this trying time, we all continue to learn from each other and share our unique ideas. However, even though it is not quite yet Shavuoth, don’t let us catch you sleeping at Zoom services.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Eric L . Wasser

Please make sure to check out our online schedule of services posted here. All the zoom information is provided and hope to “see” you soon.