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.
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.