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In the Place

It’s hard to believe that the High Holidays are only a month away – the new month of Elul begins this Shabbat. As I think back on our High Holiday services from the past few years, I smile when I remember some of the comments I’ve received from various members of the community.

I can’t count the number of people who told me that they were wearing pajama bottoms or shorts as they sat on their couches during services. Others told me about the other things that they were doing while they “attended” services – a High Holiday multi-tasking. I particularly enjoyed hearing about those who broke their fast a little early while still attending the concluding service of Yom Kippur.

Without question, being able to attend services via Zoom gave many of us a new kind of flexibility that we never expected. It was great. Our community would have never survived without adapting to the reality of the last few years.

However, in the back of our minds, we also always knew that it wasn’t quite the same as being together in person. This is something that our tradition has understood for a very long time.

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the various tithes for which our ancestors were responsible – the Levitical tithe, the festival tithe and the tithe for the poor. In describing the festival tithe, the Torah tells us: “You may not partake in your settlements of the tithes of your new grain or wine or oil, or of the firstlings of your herds and flocks… These you must consume before your God IN THE PLACE that your God will choose (Deut. 12:17-18).”

Even though the person bringing the festival tithe got to eat it and it would have been much easier to just eat it at home instead of “schlepping” it to Jerusalem, that simply wasn’t allowed. Everyone was supposed to bring their tithes to the Temple. There was something special about all being together and celebrating together in the Temple on those festival days.

I know that for some members of our community, it is still not safe or possible to return to the synagogue due their specific health situations. That is why we will continue to make our services available on-line. However, for the rest of us who have returned to work, to school, to stores and to other public venues, it’s time to return to the synagogue as well.

Two years ago, it was just the Cantor and I in the Sanctuary. Last year, a few hardy souls returned to join us, but it felt more like a summer Shabbat than the High Holidays. This year, I am hoping that we will re-create the feeling of community that so many of us took for granted before COVID. And that feeling of community is even better than the feeling of wearing pajamas on your couch.



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