In this double portion, the Israelites are just about to enter the Promised Land.
They’re so close to it, so close they could almost taste their destination! A group from the tribes of Reuben and Gad speak out against the intended plan. While the majority of the Israelites, having traveled in the wilderness for 40 years, are filled with excitement and anticipation about finally “coming home”, for others, home is exactly where they are. In the lands just east of the Jordan river, for the tribes of Reuven and Gad, their cattle are flourishing. Their place is here, and they want to stay.
Moses rebukes them, accusing them of shirking their duty, as everyone else prepares to go to war, to cross the Jordan to take the Land. However, in an act of solidarity and commitment, to their fellow Israelites, and to themselves, the descendants of Rueven & Gad commit to fight together with their people for the Promised Land…even if as they are allowed, after the people settle the Land of Canaan, to return to their pastures just outside.
For the past four months, the doors of Larchmont Temple have been closed. The pandemic virus makes it unsafe for our community to gather, especially indoors…in the place that so many in our community hold not only as sacred, but as our own home.
Every week when we’ve gathered at temple together, on an otherwise unremarkable Friday, we might have 50, 75, often 100 people for Shabbat evening services. There is the schmooze, the kibbitzing, the noshing – sounds of Jews greeting, laughing, commenting…and a little complaining…but only because we love being together.
Saturday mornings are Chevrah Torah. More schmoozing. Our Rabbi sits at one end of the table, spending the first few minutes of the session trying to get everyone to quiet down, and the rest of the time getting everyone to talk. We love the electricity we feel in that room, arguing the aspects of God, the nature of the divine, our own struggles finding justice, enlightenment, & holiness in our day-to-day lives.
Many more members of our Temple community visit LT a little less often. But their time there carries intense meaning. Moments of pride, as children perform their first obligations as young adults. Accomplishment as those same young people feel empowerment, friendship. We run in and out of preschool, where our children receive love from teachers, staff…and one another. We lean on the compassion and humanity from our family and friends, at the funerals of our loved ones. We feel immense joy at our weddings. We receive the blessings of our births. And we are reminded of the beauty in our lives.
Some in our community might only visit Temple a couple of times a year. We all know these days – the Days of Awe, that serve as time out of time, when we return to gather and honor the thing inside of us we might not even be able to name. But we come. We gather…and again we schmooze!…and we pray, and we remember. Even once or twice a year, we seek fellowship with one another, in our Temple home.
As we all camp in our houses, learning the joys (and the pains!) of much, much more family time than any of us make in ‘normal’ times, I think of our people, standing on the border of the Promised Land, in the week’s parsha.
Some want so badly to finally enter the Land, to make good on God’s promise, to feel the coming-home decades in the making. Some, who value their current home, but also their bedrock fellowship as Israelites, chose to fight for the Land, though they will live only adjacent to it. And perhaps visit only a couple of times a year.
All of them, all of that community, yearn for their place. They’ve made due, with tents, and manna, and walking, and attacks from enemies, 40 years in the desert. For now, we wander our own desert…the desert of Zoom, the wasteland that is the news in the newspapers, the distance of loved ones unvisited, of schools unattended, of uncomfortable 10-foot conversations. We wander in the desert of hidden smiles behind masks.
We all look forward to the day we truly reopen, when we throw open the doors (or even meet on the lawn!), when we can gather — to schmooze, gather to argue the big ideas, to hear our beloved clergy do their thing. To complain! Just to be together.
Until then, we all resolve to fight for our Promised Land. To fight for our community. To fight for a just society. To fight our own fragility, and for the strength to make change…in these most extraordinary of circumstances.
Until the day comes when we can come together in person, we’ll need to wander in this strange new desert. But we will walk together again. In person. For all of us, regardless of how often we come, it will be all the sweeter for its absence.
Chazak chazak v’nit chazek