Rabbi’s Weekly Email – January 21, 2021

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Jan 21 2021
8 Sh’vat 5781

Hello Temple Sinai,

Today I am thankful for the peaceful and dignified transfer of power in this nation. I was moved by the passionate performance of her poem “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gordon, the National Youth Poet Laureate, and by the appearance of three former presidents during the celebration to speak about the importance of the ability to have respect even strong disagreement. This was moving, but none of it hit me as strongly as the short ritual of memorial for the more than 400,000 who have died from COVID. I am a rabbi, so I am a sucker for a good ritual with lovely props, but what moved me was how short the ceremony us, how briefly and to the point both Vice President Harris and President Biden spoke, and how elegantly understated and simple the entire event was. It teaches me that in ritual, we tend to put words upon words upon words, but often, words are not the best conduit for emotional connection. Are all the words about Hanukkah nearly as powerful as the light of the menorah? Are the prayers of Yom Kippur as powerful as the melody of Kol Nidrei? I am going to be reflecting on that very short memorial as we approach rituals like this in the future.

It was good to see so many people show and participate in our MLK Shabbat Service, the Race and Responsibility Talk with Dr. Steinweis, and the discussion of the movie Shared Legacies. It was also great to see that my question about who to include in Yahrzeits got such a lively conversation started. I heard from many of you and with very different perspectives, so thank you for engaging. I want you to know that the Spiritual Committee will be discussing this issue in coming meetings in hopes of coming up with guiding principles to consider in the future.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we have the final plagues of Egypt, the Passover, and the beginnings of the exodus from Egypt and slavery. In Hebrew, Egypt is called Mitzraim. While this is likely rooted in the double banks of the great Nile river, but in Hebrew, it also has a meaning of “narrow place.” Places like Egypt was for our people in slavery, difficult times in our lives when we feel alienated and distant from our families, our people, our nation – these are narrow places that constrict us, push us into one another, scare us about what is around the corner. Yet, if we have faith and work together, we can make it through such narrow places, make it through these times and places of exile and fear, and into a new space of openness and possibility. Our tradition calls this next phase “wilderness’ or midbar, and while the wilderness tests us, calls us to work together even when we want to fight and rise up. The wilderness can be tough because it is uncertain, but it is also a liminal space of possibility. The wilderness is where we choose who we become and how we will be as people and a nation. It is where we choose between the fear of the scouts who said, “we are doomed and hopeless” and those who said “we can succeed but it will be tough.” In the wilderness, we choose whether to go back to Egypt and old habits, or to work together to get to the promised land.

And perhaps that is why we sing during Hallel on every holiday, “From the narrow places, I cried out to God, and God answered by bringing me to a wide-open space.” (Ps. 118:5)

Ken Y’hi Ratzon


Our usual song-filled joyful Shabbat service to celebrate creation, liberation, and the power of rest. Join us

We will have our chanted Shacharit service at 9:30.

TORAH STUDY begins at 10:30. This week, we complete the Book of Genesis with our study of Bo, the portion of the Passover. Click HERE for the URJ page on this portion, and HERE for the text on Sefaria.

HAVDALAH: 7:00 pm COFFEE HOUSE HAVDALAH. Temple Sinai and OZ folks will be singing and playing some fun music to celebrate the week with a relaxing musical Havdalah. It will be on ZOOM this week to let in more voices. Join us, and bring friends.


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