As we have welcomed people back into the building for services, classes, activities and meetings – I find myself delighted each time I see a face I have not seen in so long! I have so missed seeing everyone and to reconnect is pure joy. How Good it is to see you!!
And at the same time, I am aware that things are not “back to normal”. The past year and a half have been full of loss and pain. It manifests differently for each of us. It is real and cannot be ignored. For some, there is still trepidation in returning and others are not yet ready to venture out amidst others.
How do we move forward amidst ambiguity? Here is where Judaism is so helpful and wise. We have stories of past moments and people who have navigated similar moments. We have ritual which gives voice to the truths of our souls and the potential in the moment.
Let’s together create rituals that acknowledge what it means to return. On a recent Shabbat, I taught the verse that we begin our service with, and which is written about the doors of the office. You walk in the building, look straight ahead and see the verse: Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov Mishkenotecha Yisrael – How Good are your tents Oh Jacob, thy dwelling places Oh Israel.
Recite that verse when you come in and let it take to your own soul. Say the words and fill in what it might mean for you. Here are some of my thoughts and reflections:
How Good are your tents Oh Jacob – How good it is to be back in our tent of Beth Jacob – a place of love and connection, of faith and caring, of learning and outreach. Let me take in the good that exists here.
An interpretation of this verse is that the sorcerer Bilaam, who was hired by King Balak of Moab to curse the Jews, saw that tents of the Israelites were angled in such a way that privacy was respected and said that famous sentence.
How Good are your tents Oh Jacob. May we renew our spiritual home as we return with a sense of dignity and caring for each person that reflected the commitment to privacy that Bilaam observed.
Bilaam was a non-Jewish prophet who observed how beautiful our community was during a crucial moment in history. We were a ragtag bunch – exhausted and rebellious and it took an observer from the outside to point out how extraordinary our community was. As we re-enter community let’s do with an appreciation of the many blessings Judaism and Jewish community bring that we often overlook. Let’s walk in remembering that the first line of our prayer book and the verse over the office reminds us that God reveals truth to non-Jewish prophets and that there is wisdom from so many sources that exist in a place of worship.
How Good are your tents Oh Jacob. May we re-engage in this space aware of the many sources of wisdom that exist within these walls.
In the Talmud the tents are interpreted in modern language as synagogues and study halls.
How Good are your tents Oh Jacob. May we create prayer, study, connection as we re-enter so that good emerges. May new spiritual practices emerge which deepen our sense of good and blessing and create a space for God to dwell.
Ultimately, as we re-open, we rededicate ourselves to Jewish morals and ethics. We walk in the building and commit to being part of a community devoted to caring, justice, outreach to those in need.
How Good are your tents Oh Jacob. May the goodness that emanates from living Mitzva bring blessing to others! May our return to the building allow these efforts to grow.
A final interpretation of tov – good. Rabbi David Bigman teaches that Bilaam says this when he looks at the entire people of Israel, dwelling together despite their differences.
How Good are your tents Oh Jacob. May we return to one another embracing our connections, vowing to respect divergent voices and holding onto our shared heritage and values.
Dear God – we have lost so much in the past months. May the sacred verses from our tradition remind us of the good that exists and how we are part of defining and creating the good. May our hearts open as we create a community filled with vitality, warmth, honesty, care and introspection. May we return to ourselves and others in deeper and more conscious ways.
I will look forward to seeing you soon – and if you are not ready to return yet – let’s stay connected.