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“High Anxiety,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

May 26, 2023 | 6 Sivan 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat even as we celebrate the festival of Shavuot today. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

In our house, hanging on the wall of our kitchen, we have a cartoon. It is entitled, “Understatement of the Year.” It shows Moses standing upon the mountain holding the two tablets of the commandments with the caption, “I gotta tell you…There’s gonna be a lot of sad faces.”

Last night and all day, we marked the festival of Shavuot. Just as Passover marks the exodus from Egypt, Shavuot recalls the receiving of the Torah. In between, we began to read the book of Numbers which details the Israelite experience in the wilderness. One idea that connects all three, Passover, Shavuot, and the wilderness, is the anxiety expressed by the Jewish people as they left slavery uncertain of their future, stood at the foot of Mt Sinai frightened by the thunder and lightning around them, and wandered through unknown territory on their way (they hoped) to the land of great promise. The Torah is filled with their worry for their own safety. The early story of our people is filled with fright.

And for good reason. The Torah recognizes that life is not easy. We are perpetually challenged. And yet, receiving the Torah provided a pathway. The root of the word, Torah, itself, connotes direction, like an arrow shot out of a bow or like a teacher or parent who serves as a guide on the path of life. The Torah is a protective shield from the anxiety and fear because it provides instructions that are more than mere laws. Studying Torah and mining its words for meaning allows us to keep moving, to venture forth even when we feel worried.

In 2020, we inaugurated our congregation’s own Tikkun Leil Shavuot offering 25 hours of study led by members of our community, our clergy, along with teachers and rabbis from other congregations through our Center for Adult Jewish Learning. Each year, hundreds have joined online. Not only is the experience an homage to the power of studying Torah within community it is also a stabilizing force in our lives. Three years ago, in 2020, this event helped and nourished those seeking a path and direction in the midst of a world filled with anxiety and dread. We discovered anew how Torah can sooth our souls.

The Torah shows that anxiety may be present in a wilderness of uncertainty.  Nevertheless, with patience and a willingness to engage in study and community, we can make our way, carefully and perhaps with a healthy dose of trepidation, to discover a sense of security knowing we have the Torah as our guide.

Shabbat Shalom

Originally shared May 24, 2020, updated slightly for 2023.

  • Join us at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat with Confirmation Class of 5783, onsite in the garden or online on ZoomFacebook Live, or stream on our website. Let’s celebrate together!
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Torah Study gathers at 9:00 a.m. onsite or online (via  Zoom or via Temple Israel’s livestream), followed by an oneg to connect with friends and community.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher