Although a Jewish community as a whole is supposed to do everything in its power to ensure that there is a minyan present at all services, there is usually no personal obligation for any Jewish individual to be present at any particular service….However, this Shabbat is the exception to the rule!
On this Shabbat, Shabbat Zachor, each one of us is obligated to do our very best to be present at services and to hear the chanting of the special maftir for Shabbat Zachor.
What is so special about this reading? It is the reading that reminds us of the danger our people faced in Biblical times when we were wandering in the desert and the Amalekites set upon and attacked our weak stragglers!
Why is this story so special as to require each of us to show up in person?
This is how I see the importance of this particular section of Torah:
In obligating each one of us to show up and to hear this reading, we are invited to reflect on this reading, not only on our own, but together with others, in community. We are opening up the conversation on how we might learn to be different from Amalek. We are urged to remind ourselves and to teach our children that we do not side with the bullies. We do not attack the weak, the stragglers, and, generally speaking, all those who have trouble keeping up! Instead, we strive for something better in our world. We reach for a higher standard. We believe that all people are created in God’s image and that all people are entitled to be treated with dignity. Even those who are weak. Even those who are stragglers. Even those who have trouble keeping up!
In order to make a difference, we all have to be a part of the conversation! We all have to show up!
Nevertheless, if showing up poses a health risk, we may have to temporarily exclude ourselves from the in-person communal conversation.
If we are concerned about health issues, it is important to remember that kissing the Torah, or kissing the mezuzah, are customs that are not obligatory. We can show respect for the Torah simply by not turning our backs on the Torah, and/or by a slight bow or nod in the direction of the Torah as it is carried around the Sanctuary!
In fact, the most recent Guidance from the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement promolgated due to concerns that are being raised about Coronavirus states that:
“Pikuah nefesh, protecting human life, overrides almost every other Jewish value….All should follow advice regarding hygiene and handwashing….It is advisable to refrain from kissing ritual objects (Sifrei torah, communal talitot, siddruim, mezuzot) that are also kissed or touched directly by other individuals.”
Let us show up to be a part of our communal conversation. Let us take care to safeguard our individual and communal health – both physical and spiritual. And let us pray for continued inspiration as we strive to make our world a better place for all.
Finally, let’s not forget that Purim is right around the corner! Let’s join together to read the Megillah on Monday evening at RST! I look forward to seeing you there! In the meantime…
Rabbi Gilah Dror
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