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Clergy Column by Rabbi Jeremy Morrison

 

Constructing a Tent of Contact (Ohel Moeid) in a Post-Pandemic World
 
As you are reading this column, we are on the verge of reopening our campus (July 1), and of being able to join together, In Real Life, and not only virtually, for congregational activities.
 
The opportunities to pursue, finally, in-person connections—through worship, study, social justice and through caring and social activities wherever we desire—coincides with our reading of the fourth book of the Torah, B’midbar (“In the Wilderness”), also known as the Book of Numbers. More than the other books of the Torah, B’midbar reflects real life. The third book of the Torah, Leviticus, articulates and envisions a society predicated on ethical imperatives of justice linked to proper ritual. But there is something almost precious about the book: it feels, at times, as if it describes a hermetically sealed world. The Book of Numbers moves from the ideal to the real; from a well-ordered world, to a place that is much messier, complicated. B’midbar tells of a people struggling, even foundering, between two poles of existence, qedushah and chol, between the sacred and the profane. As one scholar has written, “The Book of Numbers seems to say, welcome to the real world. It is not a sanctuary. If you want to change and sanctify it, come and get your hands dirty." (Arnie Eisen, Taking Hold of Torah, 109)
 
Throughout their journeys in the wilderness, the Israelites carried the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that was the focal point of their encampment. The Israelites’ purpose is to construct and to transport holiness through midbar, through wilderness. This is hard work, as our story teaches, but promises great reward. This sanctuary is also known as Ohel Moied. The word moeid contains multiple meanings, including “appointment,” “meeting” or “contact.” Thus, Ohel Moeid may be translated as the “Tent of Appointed Times,” or more evocatively as the “Tent of Contact.” The word moeid is also connected to the word, eidah, which means, “congregation,” a group of people “assembled together by appointment, or acting concertedly.”1
 
As a synagogue community, we are a congregation identified by a place (26790 Arastradero Road), but also, and perhaps more powerfully, by an ever-strengthening web of relationships that we create and iterate wherever and whenever we come in contact with each other. We pitch our Ohel Moeid, our Sanctuary, Shelter or Tent of Contact by concertedly coming together to fulfill our mission as a holy community, whose study and practice of Judaism inspires and challenges us to "do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8). And we can do this everywhere.
 
One of the most important lessons from the past 15 months, is that our interpersonal connections, rather than our gathering together in one particular location—on our campus—sustained us throughout this challenging period. During the months ahead, we will continue to chart a new path as a congregation moving beyond this pandemic. What will it mean to gather safely in person, while we utilize and strengthen the virtual facets of communal life? How will we build upon the foundation of all that we learned from being a virtual, online congregation during the past 15 months? How can we more fully harness the skills and talents of our members? How will we continue and strengthen the Racial Equity and Justice work that we began this year? How will we seize this magnificent, but complicated, opportunity to re-imagine synagogue-life for a new era and for younger generations?
 
These are the questions that are at the forefront of my mind as we reconnect with one another in the actual, non-virtual world, and as I begin the second year of my tenure as Senior Rabbi. I am excited to be in greater contact with each of you, to move from two-dimensional interactions (on Zoom) to in-person, three-dimensional relationships. I invite you to “come and get your hands dirty”: join with me to sanctify the world.

L'shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy Morrison
rabbi_morrison@betham.org

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[1] The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament definition of eidah, p. 3.

Fri, October 22 2021 16 Cheshvan 5782