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The Torah of Transitions

July 1, 2021


I recently listened to a fascinating radio program that focused on a person who was able to listen to and follow four symphonies playing at the same time! This carries multi‐tasking to a new extreme!

This idea of holding and following multiple pushes and pulls at the same time also reflects a bit of our current reality. On the one hand we are still in the midst of a pandemic in our country and are still contending with systematic racism and a fractured political system. On the other hand, Pennsylvania, along with other states is in the process of lifting its mask mandate, signaling a significant shift in our state towards a more minimized pandemic reality. We are more hopeful than we have been in a while, and we find ourselves in a liminal moment of transformation.

This is not new for Judaism. Even in the Torah portions we are reading during this summer season the Israelites traveling in the desert know that they are slated to perish before seeing the promised land because of their behavior around the spies (and probably many other egregious behaviors as well!). And yet they are also the recipients of many sections of legal material about how their Judaism will be practiced once the next generation crosses over the Jordan. The Israelites are living in liminality ‐ holding both loss and possibility ‐ as they walk on their journey.

What can our traditions offer us to cope with liminality?

  • One tool is simply awareness ‐ the repeated naming and examining of liminal states. The sages in the Mishnah, our earliest law code, thrived on wrestling with liminal situations like: at what point is there enough daylight to say the morning prayers? Or, at what point does a piece of plywood need to stick out to be considered a wall? I could share dozens more examples but the point of these is that we have a history of wrestling with gray areas that may contain multiple truths. Perhaps we too can use this model of our ancestors as a way to examine the challenging multiple truths of this moment as well?
  • A second tool is ritual. As we move into a new stage in our health as a country we need to find ways to name and hold the loss we all experienced in the pandemic while also celebrating the possibility and hope for the future. Our tradition is filled with ritual that seeks to hold this paradox. When we break a glass at a wedding we are infusing somberness and loss with the joy. When we dance with the Torahs during Simcha Torah we also take time to say Yizkor and honor the losses we have experienced during the year. And we have the tradition of immersing in a mikvah that helps us recognize a change of status in our lives that also integrates a letting go and an embracing of the new. Perhaps we can continue to draw from our rituals to provide us a framework that helps us navigate our social moment?

As we begin to gather again in person in the coming months and beyond, I want to invite us to be open to how our tradition can help each of us navigate this time. May we seek learning to give us solidity and ritual to help guide our emotional realities. And may we continue to seek each other to simply be present with one another and acknowledge that we all may be holding more than meets the eye during this transition.

I will close this message with a blessing from Ritualwell.

Berukhah at ha-shleimut
Blessed Wholeness,
Our eyes are open wide
As we walk into our familiar sacred space
For the first time in over a year. 
Colors are brighter,
The sanctuary is larger
And the sounds of our voices, together, are luscious.  
We swim in our profound appreciation for what we once took for granted 
And we can’t stop smiling at our friends  
And marveling at how good they look to us. 
We hug,
We breathe in their smells,
It’s so excitingl! 
And at last
We can pray and we will be heard
We can mourn and we will be seen.
We are not alone.
Blessed Holy Wholeness
We give thanks and pray that we will remember how this felt
Next week
And next year
When we are bored.
Look at us, 
Here we are.
It is good.
Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784