At the beginning of Va-era, God instructs Moses to go to the Israelites and explain that God is ready to free them from slavery in Egypt. But, as Exodus 6:9 says, "When Moses told this to the Israelites, they did not listen to Moses, due to crushed spirits and hard labor." In his powerful d'var torah, Levi honed in on the phrase "crushed spirits" -- in Hebrew, "kotzer ruach" -- which can also be translated "shortness of spirit" or even "shortness of breath."
This past Shabbat, many members of the Kavana community joined together with the Gerson-Hanscom family to celebrate Levi's entry into Jewish adulthood. As his bar mitzvah ceremony took place in the afternoon (at mincha), the Torah portion he chanted was the preview of the one for this coming Shabbat: Parashat Va-era.
At the beginning of Va-era, God instructs Moses to go to the Israelites and explain that God is ready to free them from slavery in Egypt. But, as Exodus 6:9 says, "When Moses told this to the Israelites, they did not listen to Moses, due to crushed spirits and hard labor." In his powerful d'var torah, Levi honed in on the phrase "crushed spirits" -- in Hebrew, "kotzer ruach" -- which can also be translated "shortness of spirit" or even "shortness of breath." He talked about how easy it is for us to feel this "shortness of spirit," and the degree to which it can constrain our perspective and our sense of possibility. Levi applied the concept not only to the Israelites' enslavement, but also to Civil Rights struggles and to the experience of hunger for so many today.
Right now, there are so many reasons why we might be feeling a shortness of spirit, or experiencing shortness of breath/anxiety: the immediacy of gun violence in our city especially over the last few days (terrifying and horrifying!), the impeachment trial, the loss of a dear friend and community-member this week, the dreariness of persistent rain. How do we find the spirit we need -- or simply catch our breaths enough -- to be able to think more expansively and feel hopeful?
One way is by plugging into community... and fortunately we have many opportunities designed to help you connect through Kavana. Looking for an intellectual and literary conversation (plus great brunch and great company)? Our Book Club is the place to be Sunday morning! Have little ones who need a place to run around? Join our Family Social on Sunday afternoon. Eager for the new experience that comes with travel? Join us Sunday evening to learn about our upcoming Israel trip and meet fellow adventure-seekers! Need to feel hopeful about the world? Plant seeds for the future, engage and learn through the many Tu BiShvat celebrations featured through our Kavana-sponsored Jewish Climate Festival. Etc.!
When we can breathe and "lengthen" our spirits, we make ourselves ever so much more capable of engaging in the world in positive ways! Here's to hoping that together, we can bring the lesson of this week's parashato life, and send forth ripples of healing, possibility, and hope in the future.
On Tuesday evening, Nigel Savage of Hazon delivered a powerful keynote address as Kavana kicked off The Urgency of Now: Seattle's Jewish Climate Festival. At the outset, he acknowledged that one of the challenges in dealing with the climate crisis is that it's so hard for us to quantify or even imagine success. The audience laughed as he quipped about how unlikely it would be to read a New York Times headline 50 or 100 years from now that read "Climate Crisis is Over!"
Insight and learning comes from all directions. In the Talmud, Rabbi Chanina said: "I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned most of all.” (Taanit 7a) So it was for me two weeks ago in Kavana’s High School Program, where the discussion among the students gave me surprising new insights and, just as importantly, surprising new hope.
In weeks like this one, with the climate crisis and political crises in full view, I struggle with the question of agency. Do I have any power at all to effect change? If I cannot control the "big" things that are happening in real time all around me, do my actions matter? It's easy to become dispirited and believe that we don't have much power.