Dear Beth Shalom Community,
I am deeply saddened that we will not be celebrating Shabbat together in person tonight and tomorrow while we are being stringent in our fulfillment of the mitzvah of safeguarding lives. In spite of the anxiety that we may be feeling, I hope that Shabbat will provide an opportunity for joy, rest, learning, reflection, and calm. Here are some resources to help achieve that (plus some information about Purim at the bottom). I hope that we will be able to gather together again in person soon.
Torah and Haftarah Readings and Questions for Thought and/or Conversation
Parshat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10)
A fun trivia fact about Parshat Tetzaveh: After Moses’ birth in Parshat Shemot, this is the only parshah in the Torah where he is never mentioned. Instead, Moses’ brother, Aaron, takes center stage, as our parshah focuses on priestly clothing. When introducing the clothing of the high priest, the Torah says that it is “for dignity and adornment.” The medieval commentator Ibn Ezra writes that we can conclude from this description that it is forbidden for other Israelites to wear clothing that looks like the high priest’s. While there is obviously a hierarchical nature to this prohibition, and while we are not high priests, we do communicate our own unique identities through what we put on our bodies.
-What do you wear that says something about who you are and what makes you unique?
-What intentional and unintentional messages do we broadcast through the way that we dress ourselves?
Parshat Zachor (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
The Purim morning Torah reading consists of the battle between the Israelites and the nation of Amalek, shortly after the Israelites left Egypt. On this Shabbat before Purim, called Shabbat Zachor, we read not about the battle itself, but God’s command that we remember how Amalek attacked when we were famished and weary. This recollection includes an ambiguous clause, “וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱ-לֹהִֽים,” “and not God-fearing.” Most commentators assume that it is the Amalekites who did not fear God, as indicated by their willingness to attack the vulnerable. Yet Chizkuni, one of the medieval commentators, suggests that it was actually the tired and hungry Israelites who lacked fear of God.
-Which reading do you find more compelling? Why?
-Where in our world today do we see attacks on the vulnerable? What could it look like to infuse a sense of Godliness into those situations?
-When does our exhaustion prevent us from being our best selves?
Haftarah (I Samuel 15:2-34)
In this week’s Haftarah, King Saul is commanded to kill all of the Amalekites, but spares King Agag, said to be the ancestor of Haman (hence why we read this Haftarah the Shabbat before Purim).
-How do we reconcile the commandment to blot out the name of Amalek and God’s directive to Saul in this Haftarah with a tradition that also deeply values teshuvah (repentance)?
-Do you believe that there are sources of evil so irredeemable that the only appropriate option is complete eradication? If so, what are they?
Guidelines for Praying without a Minyan
When praying without a minyan, a few modifications are made to the service.
Friday night: Kabbalat Shabbat is recited in its entirety as usual, omitting Mourner’s Kaddish at the end. In Maariv, we omit barechu, all kaddishes, and the bracha achat me’ein sheva (the blessing that begins after the vayechulu paragraph and continues through mekadesh hashabbat, pages 47-48 in Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals). We add “El melech ne’eman” before shema.
Saturday morning: We omit barechu, all kaddishes, kedushah, and the repetition of the amidah (both shacharit and musaf). We add “El melech ne’eman” before shema. The Torah service, from ein kamocha through etz chayim is omitted (except for ashrei), but you are encouraged to read the Torah reading and Haftarah in English or Hebrew from a chumash.
A Prayer for Healing in the Coronavirus Epidemic
By Rabbi Guy Austrian
Harachaman, Compassionate One, You are “rofeh chol basar umafli la’asot,” healer of bodies, who does wondrous deeds.
The wondrous bodies that You have made for us now feel more fragile. The openings by which we perceive Your world now feel more vulnerable.
We are anxious and frightened by the uncertainty of what is to come. We love the lives we lead, and we fear what disruption may come. We love our friends, families, and neighbors, our children and our elders, and we fear what illness may come.
We pray for healing, of body and of spirit, speedy and complete, for all those who are ill from the coronavirus, both far from us and close to home.
Strengthen the hands of our caregivers. Give of Your healing powers to our medical personnel and mental health professionals. Give of Your wisdom to our decision makers and public health officials.
Strengthen our hearts to confront this challenge. Give us of Your discipline, that we may not yield to panic and dread, but may protect ourselves with appropriate precaution and calm determination. Give us of Your compassion, that we may not yield to prejudice or bigotry, but may reach out to our neighbors with kindness and solidarity.
We are grateful for our bodies and the life You have given us. We are grateful for our communities and congregations who see us and support us. We are grateful for those who are working to protect us. We are grateful for Your love and Your sheltering presence. We know we are not alone.
A Prayer in place of Kaddish
From Siddur Kol Koreh
From a halakhic perspective, the mitzvah of preserving life supersedes the mitzvah of reciting kaddish as a mourner or in commemoration of a yahrtzeit. Yet the fact that the technical requirement is overridden does not provide the emotional or spiritual fulfillment that many people receive by reciting kaddish in the presence of community. To help fill that gap, here is a Kaddish LeYachid, a kaddish prayer for an individual to recite alone, without a minyan. It is attributed to Rav Amram Gaon (a 9th century Babylonian sage).
Here are just a few suggestions of ways to bring a sense of joy and celebration to Shabbat while we’re physically separated:
- Sing joyful songs at the Shabbat table
- Read a good book
- Take a walk (and look for the beautiful flowers that are beginning to blossom!)
- Invite a few guests, to the extent that you feel comfortable
- Play a game
- Take a nap
Connection to Community:
- As you prepare for Shabbat, you might consider cooking and freezing some extra food that you can deliver to someone who may need it later.
- Please check in on your friends and neighbors, especially those who are at higher risk.
- As always, your rabbis are here for lifecycle emergencies and pastoral care. If you need support, or are concerned about other members of the community, please do not hesitate to contact Rabbi Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Kurland at email@example.com.