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.
As I sit down to draft this week's message, I pray that you and yours are okay, and weathering this current wave of the pandemic with as much ease and comfort as possible. We know that so many of you have been isolating with Covid or quarantining because of exposure, and others dealing with school closures, work disruptions, and mental health challenges. Please know that the Kavana community is here and intact (even if our activities are online for the next few weeks!); we're all moving through this turbulent time together. If you need support, please don't hesitate to reach out through the Kavana office or to me directly.
Like many of you, I'm feeling the stress of this particular moment. Only a few short weeks ago, the mood felt very different: my household was finally fully vaccinated(!), Kavana was busy planning for a January return to many more in-person events, and there was a generally positive energy in the air... an optimistic zeitgeist. And then (as I'm sure I don't have to explain), this latest Omicron wave hit, like a dark cloud, complicating everything.
As we reflect back on 2021, there is no doubt that this year has been filled with ups and downs, challenges and triumphs. That said, our community has made the most of it, coming together through a wide array of in-person and online events. During 2021, Kavana deepened focus on meeting people’s core needs for communal, emotional, and spiritual support. And when we did find ways to gather -- whether in virtual space, in backyards and parks, through our powerful High Holiday experiences, etc. -- it was magical! See below for snapshots of some incredibly beautiful experiences that we shared during 2021.