Hope Springs Eternal

This week's Torah portion, Parashat Beha'alotecha, opens with instructions about how to set up a "menorah" -- literally, a lamp-stand or light source -- in the mishkan. Thus it happens that the haftarah (prophetic reading assigned to accompany a particular Torah portion) for Beha'alotecha is the same one we read on Shabbat Chanukah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7.

This week's Torah portion, Parashat Beha'alotecha, opens with instructions about how to set up a "menorah" -- literally, a lamp-stand or light source -- in the mishkan. Thus it happens that the haftarah (prophetic reading assigned to accompany a particular Torah portion) for Beha'alotecha is the same one we read on Shabbat Chanukah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7.

The prophet Zechariah prophesied towards the end of the 70 year period that separated the destruction of the First Temple from the dedication of the Second Temple. It's hard to imagine from our perspective now just how bold and radical Zechariah's prophecies would have sounded in his day... here he was encouraging the people of Judah to rebuild the Temple that had been razed decades earlier in 586 BCE!

Admittedly, his is a strange prophecy. Zechariah's vision involves the High Priest Joshua ben Jehozadak in a courtroom with angels; it echoes other prophetic words, like Micah's vision of peace coming in the shade of vines and fig trees. And -- in the tie to our Torah portion -- Zechariah receives a specific vision of the menorah: "a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl above it. The lamps on it are seven in number and the lamps above it have seven pipes and by it are two olive trees, one on the right of the one, and one on its left" (4:2). Even Zechariah himself doesn't seem to understand what this vision means, and he turns to the angel next to him and asks: "What do those things mean, my lord?" The angel's answer is also cryptic: "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says the God of heaven's hosts."

To me, Zechariah's vision of the menorah reads as a powerful promise of hope. In the prophet's day, with the Temple Mount still a reminder of destruction, warfare and loss, his vision signaled that the Temple would in fact be rebuilt. The menorah indicates that light will once again shine; the sevens symbolize completion; the flanking olive trees signal an era of peace and wholeness to come.

Not all prophetic passages make their way into our liturgical cycle, but I love that our ancient rabbis decided that we -- the Jewish people, for all eternity -- needed to hear this message of hope not just once but twice each year! Whether we find ourselves close to the winter solstice or the summer one, the world around us can feel bleak. Hope is "evergreen content," a theme that's perennially relevant to the human experience.

And, in fact, we do need this message of hope right now, as much as ever. Wherever we go, we are surrounded by reminders of our American society's fundamental problems -- whether the specific topic is the January 6th hearings, or the impending doom many of us feel about the overturning of Roe v. Wade, or the sadness/frustration/anger connected to the ongoing epidemic of gun violence in our country. A dose of hope and encouragement would certainly come in handy in this moment.

Here at Kavana, our community's internal challenges are less severe (thank goodness!), but as the school year comes to a close, I can reflect on how hard this whole year has continued to be, for many individuals and families on a personal level, and for all of us, collectively. On an organizational level, this has been a year of continual shifts and pivots, because of Covid, in order to meet our community's needs. Zechariah's words in this week's haftarah come at the perfect time for us, functioning like a pep talk: You can do this. It's time to rebuild and rededicate. There will come a time when light and completion and peace feel true. And, when you do move forward, know that success will not come through might or through power, but rather, through an attempt to live in concert with God's spirit, to engage in divine pursuits in the world.

Kavana is taking Zechariah's message of hope and encouragement to heart. Right now, we are preparing to move forward -- with rebuilding and rededicating, and making our community better than ever before -- as we prepare to enter into a new fiscal and program year. Over the coming months, we will have lots of exciting news to share with this community about our plans to grow and deepen Kavana's work. As you already know, Rabbi Jay LeVine joined our staff just over three months ago now... this new rabbinic position a fulfillment of the promise we made to the Kavana community several years ago when we celebrated Kavana's B'nai Mitzvah. This summer, we will also be bringing on a new Director of Education (stay tuned next month for an introduction!) and creating a new position for a Director of Community Engagement (more on that in August!). Growing Kavana's staff team will enable this organization to better achieve our stated purpose of being "an innovative Jewish cooperative that empowers each community member to create a meaningful Jewish life, develop positive identity, and receive support on their journey." And finally, as we shared with Kavana partners at last month's Annual Partner Meeting, we are working with Project Accelerate to expand Kavana's organizational capacity, building the structures we need to support all of this growth. We will be turning to you again in a few months to help us reach a fundraising matching goal in conjunction with this hopeful vision for Kavana's future!

Meanwhile, there's no need to wait to be a source of light to the Kavana community. If you haven't already contributed in this fiscal year -- or if you are feeling a particular sense of gratitude for the ways in which Kavana continually buoys you with hope -- we invite you to lend your financial support before the end of FY '22, on June 30th.

Thank you for being part of this community, a continual source of hope and support. This week, may we find the encouragement and hope we need to know that the best is yet to come!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum