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When the Cloud Lifted

05/27/2021 04:02:20 PM


This weekend, we are delighted to be sharing a simcha with extended family, friends and community, as we celebrate Ezra’s Bar Mitzvah.  Family have already started to arrive from out of town.   We are full of gratitude, not just for the simcha, but for the uniqueness of the timing. We had originally requested a date in April, closer to his birthday, but when dates were assigned several years ago we did not get our first choice, or even our second,  (yes, that’s right, even though I’m the senior rabbi) and so we ended up choosing this weekend.  I have some thoughts on what it means to be celebrating this weekend in the context of parashat Beha’alotekha, our experience of the last 16 months, and how we move ahead into the next 6.  

Parashat Beha’alotekha marks the transition from the ideal to the real in the context of the Israelites’ journey through the desert.  For the past two weeks, we have been reading the organizational structure of the camp, the count of warriors from each tribe, and the positioning of the Levites. This week we are told that when the Israelites would set up camp, and when they would break camp and resume their journey, was determined by a divine sign.  A cloud of glory, lit with fire at night, would lift from the tent, and proceed before them to guide the way, and then it would settle in a spot and they would find rest.  The Israelites never had an itinerary or schedule. On any given day they did not know if they would be sleeping in the same place, or where they would be going.

 I think many of us feel the same way about this last 16 months. While we could be pretty confident where we be sleeping, we gained an appreciation of how much of our life’s trajectory is out of our hands.  Do I have to quarantine if I touch my groceries?  What restrictions will be advised, imposed or lifted?  Is school virtual?  Are we masking or not?  Can we eat indoors or outdoors?  There might be toilet paper in the store, but who has gas to go buy it?!

 Had my family gotten its first choice date, we would have celebrated with just a handful of people in the sanctuary, and most family would have been on screen.  Our congregation’s maximum capacity has been increasing steadily over the past two months under the guidance of our COVID task force.  Literally this week, Fulton County’s covid parameters dropped below the level set by our task forces several months  to increase indoor attendance to  15% of capacity, provided almost all were vaccinated. For this shabbat, that quota has been filled by members of our congregation, but there is still the opportunity for anyone who wants to join on Friday night to sign up.    We are incredibly grateful to be able to share our celebration with so many who are dear to us.

We are not there yet, but we are moving closer to the day when the cloud of COVID will not be the primary factor that dictates where and how we camp.    It won’t be long before shabbat services are open without registration. Weekday services will start returning to the sanctuary a few days a week, ( starting Thursday morning the 3rd).  We’ve set a full set of family and children’s activities for the summer.  Our congregation now has to think about how we serve the spiritual and communal needs of Jews in our community, and perhaps very far afield, in a very new environment.  We are working on plans for the high holidays that will enable us to serve the needs of congregants who are ready to be in person, and those who are not, and some really phenomenal new youth and family services, so be on the lookout for a survey to get your input.

 The cloud is lifting. My family is full of gratitude this shabbat as we encamped, accidentally, at a propitious time. Meanwhile,  our congregation is setting off on a new journey.  We pray that God’s wisdom will continue to guide us on our course.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784