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Rabbi's Shabbat Message

Approaching Simchat Torah 5781 + New Podcast!

These last few weeks, I haven’t been able to get an email out to you before Shabbat in all of the busy-ness of the high holidays - but this week, there’s so much that I want to share! 

Read on for info about celebrating this weekend’s holidays and Jonah Murovitz’s bar mitzvah, as well as a Simchat Torah podcast conversation between Dr. Amy Robertson and me.

Tonight begins the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, a final holiday that comes at the end of Sukkot where we begin to pray for rain for the year to come, and where (according to Rashi, paraphrasing the Talmud about the meaning of “atzeret” or “holding back”) God wants us to hold back and not let go of the holidays just yet. Rashi says: It is similar to the case of a king who invited his children to a banquet for a certain number of days. When the time arrived for them to take their departure he said, “Children, I beg of you, stay one day more with me; it is so hard for me to part with you!” (Rashi on Lev. 23:36)

A dear friend of mine who lives in Chicago said to me yesterday that she feels the poignancy of Shemini Atzeret in a different way this year. She’s been hosting small outdoor gatherings at her home for the last few months, and she knows that with the onset of colder weather, she’ll have to revert back to Zoom events. During the few small outdoor in person gatherings we’ve held here at Or Hadash, I see how much people just want to linger around one another at a distance, just to savor what it feels like to be in each other’s presence. We’re hoping that here in Atlanta, we’ll be able to spend a little more time outdoors together this fall, and we’re working on planning a few events throughout October and November to do just that.

Because we follow the Israeli calendar at Or Hadash, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are one and the same, marking one multi-layered celebration of the transition of the seasons. We begin to pray for rain during tomorrow’s Musaf service, and we also rejoice in the cyclical nature of Torah ending and beginning again in almost the same breath.

But there’s even more in store for us - because this weekend we’re also celebrating the bar mitzvah of Jonah Murovitz! And it’s Shabbat! So here’s how all of these celebrations are fitting together:

  • Friday night, October 9th at 6:30pm: We’ll daven Ma’ariv, the evening service, and then virtually roll through the entire Torah in honor of Simchat Torah, zooming out to see the journey we’ve taken over this past year and also look forward to where we’re going next.
  • Saturday morning, October 10th at 9:15am: Jonah will lead us in Shaharit, we’ll sing Hallel, and we’ll conclude the book of Devarim and re-start the reading of Torah with Bereshit. At the end of services, anyone who would like to participate in Yizkor services will be invited to enter a separate Zoom room, which will be linked on the website and in the chat, and those who want to stick around for Jonah’s photo montage can stick around in the main Zoom room.
  • Saturday night, October 10th at 8pm: If you’re eager to get the full (virtual) Simchat Torah experience, you are invited to join the Jewish Emergent Network (the network of Jewish spiritual communities that I was part of before joining Or Hadash) for a musical, energetic, creative Simchat Torah celebration coast to coast by going to their website here: jewishemergentnetwork.org 


Last but definitely not least: Amy and I took the opportunity of Simchat Torah this year to zoom out and reflect on the big ideas that we see present in each of the five books of Torah and in the Torah as a whole. We recorded our conversation in a podcast that’s available for you to download and listen to at any point. This got us both very energized about seeing the Torah through new eyes this year as we start back at the book of Bereshit, and we’d love to hear your thoughts too - we may just make this podcast a regular thing!

Shabbat shalom, chag sameach, and mazal tov - to a year full of abundant opportunities to celebrate, even if they look wildly different than we may have ever imagined.

--Rabbi Lauren

Tue, October 27 2020 9 Cheshvan 5781