Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

Shabbos Passover during 5780

Torah reading intro

Today, we are reading from Exodus 33:12–34:26 and from Numbers 28:19–25. In Exodus, we will read about one of the more prolific scenes from our scripture, from Sinai. In these verses, Moses will see the back of G-d; afterward, he will be summoned to hew tablets. G-d proclaims a covenant in the presence of all of the Israelites, for the land of Israel will be theirs, as ordained by G-d. Upon entering the land, the Israelites are instructed to destroy the inhabitants’ false idols and from this day forth observe the festival of unleavened bread. In Numbers, our scripture will emphasize the prohibitions against labor for the holiday.

Reading through our parsha today, I am reminded about an anecdotal story from my year in Israel of rabbinical school. Our class was dragged into one of our many journeys in which nobody seemed to plan for lunches, rest stops, or bathroom breaks. I distinctly remember the bus we were crowded into. It was a bulletproof bus, and we were traveling close to Nabulus. I remember it so distinctly because the bus had not been cleaned, and we were desperate to find some sort of distraction on the bus. My classmates and I devised games to pass the time. In one game, one of my classmates posed to our group that if you could relive one experience in the Torah, what would it be? Interestingly enough, the scene of Moses meeting G-d was the most popular scene. Everyone wants to relive an experience like Moses in these verses read today, of facing the back of G-d.

Men and women devote their lives to this endeavor. Some try to acquire this experience by studying in rabbinical school for 5 years. Others may become a doctor or a lawyer but with the same goal in mind: to somehow come face to face with the divine. I’d like to suggest something my classmates overlooked when formulating this question. Searching and discovering are things that we can do internally to connect with the eternal. As I was thinking of the question, I remember thinking that I believe I can connect with the divine not atop Sinai but at unexpected moments. Sometimes, you give your life for the search of something but it is in your own backyard. Let these thoughts carry us through the Torah reading today.

Haftorah intro

For our Haftorah reading, we will be reading from Ezekiel 37:1–14. In our verses today, we will read about Ezekiel’s “vision of the dry bones,” in which he finds himself in a valley covered in dry bones. G-d tells Ezekiel to tell the bones that G-d will cause them to reassemble, grow flesh and come to life.

After the newly revived people seemingly come to life, G-d tells Ezekiel that the people he sees represent the Jewish people, who, after being brought to destruction, will be restored to their full glory. G-d will breathe new life into them, and they will again prosper.

The vision of Ezekiel is one of the most heavily discussed visions from our prophets. These visions are so powerful that they have trickled into our religious consciousness in significant ways. The revival of the dead is something challenging for many skeptics to understand. Reform and Conservative Judaism have traditionally splintered liturgically on this matter. I am not fundamentally bothered by the language; rather, in the wake of our tragic history, I find these words empowering and even inspiring. Mishkan Tefilah made a historical decision on traditional liturgical revival in the last Sidur to include the optional reading of the revival of the dead as part of the Amidah. May the dialogue between our movements, institutions, theologies, and beliefs be something we continue to engage in.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuel Polin is the Rabbi of Etz Chaim Congregation - Monroe Township Jewish Center on Monroe Township, New Jersey. A New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Subsequent to both of masters programs, Rabbi Polin graduated with a third Masters in Hebrew Letters and received his Semikhah (Rabbinic ordination) from the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations.