EDITOR’S NOTE: Student Rabbi Miriam Farber’s sermon last Friday evening was very moving, and several of us asked if it could be reprinted in the Ram’s Horn. Also, Mazal tov to Miriam on her upcoming marriage to a fellow student rabbi from Brazil on June ninth. We wish her farewell as she embarks on her journey toward a bright and promising future.
Building Covenantal Community: The Cohanim, the Kohatites, and Us
Earlier in our service, we sang the words Mi Chamocha ba’eilim Adonai? Who is like You, Adonai? With this prayer, we acknowledge God as the Redeemer, and we sing our joyful praises, like the Israelites, for freedom. Yet this prayer doesn’t tell the whole story. We know that Moses plays a key role in bringing the Israelites to this moment, even though his name is not found in the traditional haggadah. There are two midrashim that offer different understandings of exactly what happened to make the sea part.
In the first, as the tribes of Israel are standing on the shores, watching the Egyptians draw nearer and arguing amongst themselves over who will be the first into the sea, Nachshon ben Amminadav, a single person from the tribe of Judah, goes into the Sea. The sea does not part immediately, so Nachshon keeps walking, as the sea comes up to his knees, his shoulders, and finally his chin. As the water reaches his nose, and Nachshon prepares to take his final breath, the sea parts. The Yiddish saying, “To be a Nachshon,” means to be an initiator, in honor of the man who was brave enough to walk into the Sea of Reeds. In this version of that tense moment on the shores of the sea, the power for redemption rests with one man, with Nachshon ben Amminadav.
In the second midrash, God says to Moses, “All that Israel has to do is go forward. Therefore, “Let them go forward! Let their feet step forward from the dry land into the sea, and you will see the miracles I will perform for them.” The midrash quotes a verse from Exodus, which says, “And the Israelites went into the midst of the sea upon the DRY ground.” The midrash asks, if they went into the sea, then why does the Torah say, “upon the dry ground”? This is to teach that the sea did not split for them until they stepped into it and the water had reached their noses, only then did it become dry land.
In this version of the story, not God alone, and not even an individual person – a Nachshon, a Moses, or a Miriam – had the power to part the sea. The power for redemption rested with the entire people of Israel, acting together, in partnership with God.
By our Torah portion this week, B’midbar, the very first parasha in the book of Numbers, Egypt and the crossing of the sea are long behind us. The Israelites have already been wandering in the desert, in the midbar, for two years. The end of the portion describes, in painstaking detail, the process for dismantling the Tent of Meeting when the time comes to break camp. This responsibility falls upon Aaron and his sons, the cohanim. Another group, the Kohatite family within the tribe of Levi, has the responsibility of carrying each element of the Tent of Meeting as the Israelites wander through the desert. Each person, each family, each tribe, has its role in the upkeep of the Tent of Meeting.
In some ways, this biblical division of labor is not so different from the division of labor here, or in any other modern Jewish community around the world. One person or one family cannot do all the work of building and supporting a community; each person has to find the right role for themselves.
“At the breaking of camp, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the screening curtain…”
At the end of services, someone has to take down the tapestry hanging behind the ark.
“Over the table of display they shall spread a blue cloth; they shall place upon it the bowls, the ladles, the jars, and the libation jugs; and the regular bread shall rest upon it.”
Someone has to clean up from oneg, and put all of the reusable supplies back in the closet for tomorrow.
“Then they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand for lighting, with its lamps, its tongs, and its fire pans, as well all the oil vessels that are used in its service.”
Someone takes responsibility for returning the candlesticks to their proper place, ensuring that they will be ready for the next Shabbat service here.
“When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sacred objects and all the furnishings of the sacred objects at the breaking of the camp, only then shall the Kohatites come and lift them…These things in the Tent of Meeting shall be the porterage of the Kohatites.”
And someone carries the ark off of the bima and places it in the closet for safekeeping.
Just as each of our ritual objects and other supplies have their own place in the closet, each person in this community has a role to play.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches that society is bound together not by contract, but by covenant. While an individual can leave a contract when it is no longer in their interest to pursue the contractual relationship, a covenant binds people together even in difficult times. Covenants are not rooted in self-interest, but in loyalty and love. Contracts lead to the growth of political and economic institutions – governments, political parties, businesses. Covenants, on the other hand, create very different institutions – families, communities, and traditions.
Jewish communities all over the country are struggling with how to remain covenantal communities. Families treat religious school as another extracurricular to be scheduled and paid for, no different than ballet classes or learning a musical instrument. Some synagogues have become fee-for-service institutions, rather than places of true, deep community. Members, and even lay leaders, expect the paid professional staff to do the real, hard work of ensuring the survival of the institution.
But here, in Great Falls, there is no paid staff. And while this community may not have a jam-packed program calendar like a large synagogue in another city, it certainly is a covenantal community, one in which each person does his or her part – not only taking on the responsibilities of setting up the Bethel for services or for potluck, but also the responsibility of ensuring that this community survives, taking the very real challenge of the future to heart. This community has a great deal of Torah to teach the large synagogues of Los Angeles and New York.
Tonight, our voices have risen together in song, led by our very talented musicians, Steve, Sarah, and Hillary. Each of our voices, each of our unique instruments, is needed to help our songs and our prayers ascend to heaven. No voice is too young or too old, too out of tune, to be excluded.
In next week’s Torah portion, we find the familiar words of the Priestly Blessing. God, partner with this holy community and its members in bringing redemption.
Y’varech’cha Adonai v’yishm’recha.
May God bless and keep this community for generations to come.
Ya’er Adonai panav eilecha v’yichuneka.
May God’s light shine out from this community, teaching Torah and bringing Judaism to this corner of the world.
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasem l’cha shalom.
May God give this community a sense of shleimut, wholeness, recognizing all the gifts it holds within it.
Dear Montana Jews,
- Congregation Beth Aaron, Billings
- Chabad Lubavitch of Montana
- Congregation Beth Shalom, Bozeman
- Congregation Aitz Chaim, Great Falls
- The Jewish Community of Helena
- Congregation B’nei Israel, Butte
- Congregation Har Shalom, Missoula
- Congregation Bet Harim, Kalispell
- Synagogue of the Northern Rockies, Whitefish
- Chanukah in Chelena (aitzchaim.com)
- Majco Candle Lighting at the Capitol Thursday, December 22, 2011 (aitzchaim.com)
- Chanukah Schedule (aitzchaim.com)
“… a very good site, perhaps even essential … extremely useful hints and tips … should be taken seriously by just about everyone except the most determined masochist.” The Jerusalem Post, 10 October 1997.
Each year on Yom Kippur, Jews wish each other a khatima tova (a good seal in the Book of Life) and tolerable fast. The route to a khatima tova is beyond the scope of this article; the route to an easy fast is simpler to describe. The following are the essentials of human physiology that will help you have a tolerable fast on Yom Kippur:
Don’t get thirsty:
Most people think the difficulty about fasting is feeling “hungry”. However, avoiding thirst is much more important for how you feel. Not only do you avoid the discomfort of thirst but you are also well hydrated and swallow frequently, so your stomach does not feel as empty.
One important way to remain well hydrated is to avoid drinks or foods that cause your body to get rid of water. Such foods and drinks include alcohol, tea, caffeinated coffee and chocolate. Another important rule is to avoid consuming much salt. Salt causes a person to feel thirsty despite having a “normal” amount of water, because extra water is needed for the extra salt. For this reason you should avoid processed foods containing lots of salt such as pickles, cold cuts, or cheese. Most tomato sauces, canned fish and smoked fish have a lot of added salt. Since Kosher meat has a high salt content it may be best to choose a main course such as fresh fish, canned no-salt tuna fish or a de-salted meat such as boiled chicken.
By avoiding these types of foods and drinks in the several hours before a fast, you can avoid either losing water or needing extra water. Other actions that cause the body to lose water, such as perspiring in warm clothing, should also be avoided during the fast.
Don’t start the pre-fast meal on a full stomach:
The pre-fast meal often begins at 5 PM, so a large lunch could prevent you from eating enough immediately before the fast. It is best to have a small lunch, or no lunch at all. A large breakfast early in the day based on cereals, breads and fruits can provide the energy you need during the day, yet these high-fiber foods will be far downstream by the time of the pre-fast meal and will not keep you from eating enough food at the pre-fast meal. A large breakfast is also helpful because it stretches the stomach. After eating breakfast, it is best to consume beverages during the day. This will not fill you up, since liquids are absorbed quickly, and this will ensure that you have absorbed enough fluids during the day to start the pre-fast meal being well hydrated. Be sure to avoid beverages with alcohol or caffeine. You should also drink at least two glasses of fluids with the pre-fast meal because many foods need extra water to be digested properly.
Eat foods that are digested slowly:
Include some foods high in oils and fats in the pre-fast meal, since such foods delay emptying of the stomach and effectively prolong your meal. However, beware of fatty meats or salted potato chips that could load you up with too much salt. Salads and other high fiber foods that are so important in one’s normal diet should be de-emphasized for the pre-fast meal since they travel quickly through the digestive system. Fruit, despite its high fiber content, is worthwhile since it carries a lot of water in a “time-release” form.
Don’t get a headache:
Withdrawing from caffeine produces a headache in people who drink several cups of coffee a day. If you consume this much caffeine in coffee or other foods or drinks you should prepare yourself for the caffeine-free period by reducing or eliminating caffeine from your diet in the days before Yom Kippur. Don’t try to get through the fast by drinking coffee right before Kol Nidre, since this will cause you to lose a lot of water.
Make the meal tasty enough so people will eat:
The pre-fast meal doesn’t have be bland. Spices such as lemon or herbs are fine for fasting, but salt and monosodium glutamate should be reduced as much as possible.
Don’t do a complete fast if you have certain medical problems:
People with medical conditions such as diabetes should consult their doctors and rabbis before fasting. Certain medications need to be taken during Yom Kippur, and it is important to swallow them with enough water to avoid pills getting stuck on the way to the stomach and damaging the esophagus. Fasting by women who are pregnant or breast feeding can also be dangerous. If a young person who has not fasted much before has unusual difficulty fasting you should discuss this with your doctor since this happens in some serious metabolic problems in which fasting can be very dangerous.
Don’t eat improperly after Nei’la:
Even people who have prepared well for fasting will be hungry after Neila. Be sure not to eat food too quickly at the post-fast meal. Begin the break-fast meal with several glasses of milk or juice: these put sugar into the bloodstream and occupy space in the stomach, discouraging you from eating too rapidly. Also be careful about eating high salt foods such as lox, since you will still be a little dehydrated and will need to drink a lot of fluids to avoid waking up extremely thirsty in the early morning hours.
These preparations for the fast of Yom Kippur will be different from your normal routine, but they can serve as a concrete reminder of the approaching Day of Atonement.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the Jewish Advocate (Boston, USA) in 1989. Copyright © 1989 – 2011 Michael M. Segal, MD, PhD. This document may be reproduced freely on a non-profit basis, including electronically, through 2011 as long as the source at www.segal.org/kippur/ is indicated and this copyright notice is included.
There are three positions up for re-election for the Aitz Chaim Board of Trustees. Those positions are currently held by Laura Weiss, Helen Cherry and Steve Boyd.
Laura, Helen and Steve have offered to run for re-election. Any adult member of the congregation is eligible to run for any of these three board positions. Candidates must be Jewish members in good standing of the Great Falls Hebrew Association. In addition to the three board members running for re-election, there will be several blank lines on the ballot for write-in candidates. Please comment below if you are interested in announcing your candidacy for the Board.
Board elections will take place during our congregation services over the High Holy Days. Nadyne Weissman will have ballots, please go find her to vote. Results will be announced during our Yom Kippur Break the Fast potluck meal on Saturday, October 8.
Judaically or scientifically we have a concept of time. The passing of time may be viewed in at least two ways: spiral time or linear time. In spiral time we look at events at a higher level. We experience an event or we read about it, and then, as time passes, we re-enact it to bring us back emotionally to the event, and to discover or rediscover the significance of the event in our current everyday lives. In linear time, after the event happens, time passes, and passes, and passes … and as we get farther and farther away from the event, we lose our focus and our interest, and we lose the significance that the event had in our lives.
In Judaism, one way that we maintain our focus and our interest in past events of significance in our heritage and in our lives is by re-enacting our holidays. In the spiral time concept, we move in time lines that resemble elliptical circles. We keep in touch with events from our history by celebrating a Passover Seder, building and inhabiting a Succah, or engaging in repentance on Yom Kippur. It is this elliptical movement of thought in relation to events in our collective history that makes those events continue to be pertinent in our lives. Since the time line in Judaism curves backward, we do not forget- nor do we minimize the importance of our ancestors and what their deeds and their lives mean to us today.
In this season of solemnity, we reflect not only upon our recent personal history, but also upon our long Jewish history. We set goals to take more responsibility for our individual actions and those of our community — not just for our immediate benefit, but also for the benefit of those future generations who will follow after us and look back at our deeds and our lives as Jews and remember our influence in their own lives. May we remain strong and vibrant in this coming year.
Last year on Rosh Hashanah I wished that we all would come back together this year,, happy, healthy, and even more fulfilled in our Jewish lives. My wish and my blessing for this year is that we all continue to meet and pray together, that we all continue to be well, and that we all come back together again for next year.
May our children and grandchildren grow older and smarter. may we keep our health, our hair, our teeth, our sight, our hearing and our love of each other.
‘L’SHONA TOVA TIKVATENU’
High Holy Days Schedule 2011
All services are led by Cantor Elliott Magalnick
Wednesday Sept 28
- Erev Rosh Hashanah services are 7:00 P.M. at the Bethel, 1009 18th Ave SW, Great Falls
Thursday Sept 29
- Rosh Hashanah services are 10:00 A.M. at the Bethel, 1009 18th Ave SW, Great Falls
- Tashlich immediately follows morning services at about 12:30pm at Giant Springs State Park
- No host community lunch immediately follows Tashlich at Maple Gardens
Friday October 7
- Kol Nidre services are 7:00 P.M. at the Bethel, 1009 18th Ave SW, Great Falls
Saturday October 8
- Yom Kippur services begin on Saturday morning, October 8 at 10:00 A.M. at the Bethel, 1009 18th Ave SW, Great Falls.
- 10:00 A.M.-12:00 P.M. Morning Services
- 2 hour break: 12:00 P.M.-2:00 P.M.
- 2:00 P.M.-4:00 P.M. Adult Discussion, STORAHtelling on Jonah by Cantor Elliot Magalnick
- 1 hour break: 4:00 P.M.-5:00 P.M.
- 5:00 P.M.-5:45 P.M. Yizkor
- 5:45 P.M.-6:15 P.M. Minhah
- 6:15 P.M.-7:00 P.M. Neilah
- Break the fast milchig (dairy) pot luck immediately follows evening services.
As we prepare to enter the year 5772 and schedule our services for the year, I think it a good idea for our community to continue to discuss our rituals and traditions.
We have a ritual committee. Unfortunately, that committee has not had a meeting since 2005. In the coming weeks, I am going to put together a document outlining our minhag. In the meantime, please find after the “more” link copies of the minutes from our 2005 Ritual Committee meetings. Please read and give us your comments!