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Parashat Yitro, 5781

By Rabbi Amanda Golby

There are different things we are all missing at the moment, both with regards to our Jewish practice and observance, and in so many other ways.

While I have become used to reading the parashat hashavoua, our Torah portion of the week at home, and studying different commentaries, I particularly missed standing in Shul last Shabbat for the Shirah, the Song of the Sea, and will indeed miss it this week when we are not standing together for the aseret hadibrot, the 10 words, sayings, commandments, the symbol of revelation that is so important. It always seems a special moment of reaffirmation.

This time brings challenges to Jewish observance, and for this Shabbat when we hear again, ‘zachor et yom hashabbat l’kadsho’, remember the sabbath day and keep it holy, we perhaps have a special opportunity to think about what remembering Shabbat means. However while it is ‘zachor’ in this week’s portion, in Va’Etchanan in Devarim, Deuteronomy, it is ‘shamor’, observe, something more positive. In l’cha dodi, we are reminded that they are ‘one command’, and we need to do both, but I am wondering if the words resonate differently at this time. Some are finding Shabbat particularly important and meaningful, while others find it much more challenging. As with everything else, we need to do the best we can.

Perhaps you are wondering where, and when, you can go on holiday, and, of course, so many want to travel to be with family, or indeed to be with family here, and the uncertainty is difficult. What holiday would you ideally like? Rabbi Brad Artson, a good friend of Masorti rabbis and communities in this country, is the Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles. In his collection of Torah thoughts, ‘The Bedside Torah’, regarding Shabbat in Yitro, he refers to Rabbi Dr Abraham Joshua Heschel of blessed memory. Heschel taught of the importance of time in Judaism, and stressed it was time rather than place that has the greater importance, and referred to Shabbat as a palace in time. And Rabbi Artson has a piece entitled ‘All aboard for the Shabbat cruise’, as he suggests that this is a holiday open for us all each week.

Shabbat is the fundamental building block for all of Judaism, and all of Jewish values. It is our portable home in time, a movable tabernacle that travels with the Jewish people throughout our journeys in Jewish history…

Rabbi Artson invites us to see it as a cruise, what we might term a 25-hour mini break, and in contemporary language, a staycation, geographically, but something very different spiritually.

Perhaps that sounds too idealistic. Life is complicated at the present time. For some there is too much time, every day. Others feel that they have far less time than usual, because perhaps of the stresses of work, the challenges of home schooling, financial concerns, health worries, loss… Some are so physically exhausted that it is enough just to try to stop, if indeed that is possible, without doing anything more.

However there are ways in which Shabbat can be helpful. For many, even if they would like to have Shabbat, it may seem impossible without the familiar structures of family meals, familiar services, and it is challenging for us all. However, hopefully, even at this time, there are ways of making it special, of ensuring that it is not ‘just another day’, but has a different pattern, and can bring a sense of renewal, which, at this time more than ever, is necessary, to help us to feel strengthened and supported, and much help is available for those who want to make more of Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom

Posted on 4 February 2021