I hope you all had a blessed Shabbat of rest and joy. I am so grateful to Deb Wolff and Ma’ayana Tishman who led our community in Shabbat davenning (prayer), and to Steven Klier, who read the Torah. Since I was not with you this past Shabbat, I want to offer some thoughts to you this Labor Day.
We are living in increasingly stressful times. Some say we are always living in these stressful times; the difference now is that we’ve got a 24-hour news cycle to bring it to our attention. I think both are true. A brazenness of disrespect and disregard has been unleashed and we have the ability to see its effects as they occur in the farthest reaches of our world. Particularly as Jews, we have to take note when Nazis are gathering and marching in the streets! But, we’re also acutely aware of the natural and weather-related tragedies and the constant intimations of war. Sometimes it seems that there is just situation, after situation, after situation! If you believe in the coming of Moshiach (messiah) it’s enough to have you screaming “MOSHIACH NOW!!”
Each day during this month of Elul we recite Psalm 27. This year, I am moved by the last verse: Kaveh el Adonai, chazak ve’ya’ametz libecha. “Wait on G!d, be strong and courageous.” This psalm is one Jewish tool that we can use during Elul as well as all year long to combat the feelings of overwhelm and smallness that can settle on us when it seems that negativity is coming at us from all sides.
Kaveh! The BDB (Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, dictionary of the Tanach) says that this imperative verb etymologically comes from twisting and stretching a rope and the tension that is maintained when it is being stretched. A rope is made up of many cords put together. A single cord will snap under tension, but a rope’s purpose is to withstand tension. Some cords are shorter or longer than others, and being bound together in a rope allows the tension to be spread more evenly across them.
Kaveh is related to two words that we are familiar with: mikveh (a collection, usually of water) and tikvah (hope). The word tikvah also means a cord in Hebrew. Just like I said above that a single cord under pressure will snap, the hope of one individual under too much pressure will also snap. So we gather together in a mikveh neshamot — a gathering of spirits, of souls, of people. Together, this gathering is stronger and able to withstand the pressure and support the others. This is reflected in the psalm, Kaveh el Adonai, When we gather together towards YHVH, around a sense of unity and connectedness of all being, chazak v’ya’ametz libecha, our hearts, individual cords of hope, can be made strong from the strength of others, giving us the courage to live our purpose (the root of ya’ametz also means being directed to purpose!). Being in a meaningful community is one of the greatest antidotes to many of society’s ills.
What a wonderful intention as we prepare to gather for the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe. This time of year, when so many people are drawn back into community, into our mikveh neshamot. We will gather to draw strength and meaning from our traditions and our liturgy. Our cantor, Evlyn Gould and I, along with guidance from Rabbi Simon and our ritual committee, are in deep preparation.
I am enjoying getting to know so many members of THZ individually, and each Shabbat learning more about us as a community through our conversational divrei Torah (words of Torah). I am meeting with local clergy, both Jewish and of other faiths, and learning about opportunities for service in South Jersey. I do all of this with the goal of identifying how our THZ community can help to strengthen each member and help clarify and support our purpose as individuals and as a community. As always, I welcome ideas, feedback and, most of all, your patience. We are very much still in the midbar (wilderness) and together we will navigate this new territory. In a rope, each cord is necessary to bear the load, its presence along with the twist, the bond, is what gives the rope its strength. You are needed to give Temple Har Zion its strength, especially during our transition now and moving through 5778. May we all be blessed with strength and courage for the new year. L’Shana tova!
— Rabbi Tiferet