The Wrapped Torahs bearing blessings; Covid 2020

Picture taken by me to demonstrate and illustrate a Simchat Torah Covid 2020 that never should have been. (Courtesy)
Picture taken by me to demonstrate and illustrate a Simchat Torah Covid 2020 that never should have been. (Courtesy)

How do we bless Gd, one another and each other this past Covid 2020 Simhat Torah with Torahs that we can’t touch? One choice would be to use a Torah that is Pasul or not usable until checked or corrected by a Sofer Torah (St”m), or saran wrap or plastic wrap the Torahs.

What was my choice of “the go to to perform the rite of the priestly blessing”, being a bat Kohen or daughter of a Cohen? You guessed it. Plastic wrapped Torahs. Easy simple, long distanced, and no mess and no fuss. Or so I thought. What a story. What emotions, like no other. A story for the books, my history tales of wow and woe. A story of pained longing for a post Covid time once again.

(Courtesy)

But the proper time for blessings waits for no one and no delay. Accommodations must be made to maintain the safety of one and all, and even a teddy bear or two. Someday, we will be able to embrace and dance with the Torahs without barriers, without saran or plastic wrap, just not yet. With vaccines in the making, there is hope in the near future, but for now, we need to improvise.

We all have. I am included. So that’s what I have done.  Below is my Teddy bear tale of Simhat Torah Covid 2020, Aaronic priestly blessing to my children, long distance, with modern day interpretations for each .

Past History ( check out the article in My Jewish Learning; The Priestly Blessing).

“The text of the blessing comes directly from the Bible, Numbers 6:24-26:

The LORD bless you and protect you!
The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!
The LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!

In ancient times, the priests recited the blessing twice each day while standing on a special platform known as a duchan. In some synagogues today, the recitation of the blessing is informally known as “duchaning.”

The blessing today is traditionally recited in synagogues by the kohanim, the descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron who served as priests in the temple. The common procedure is for the Levites, the descendants of the tribe of Levi who served as assistants in the temple, to wash the hands of the kohanim, who then remove their shoes and stand before the ark.

At the appropriate point in the service, the prayer leader will call out “kohanim.” The kohanim then cover their heads with their prayer shawls, arrange their fingers in a pattern made famous as a Vulcan greeting by the Jewish actor Leonard Nimoy in “Star Trek,” and recite an introductory blessing. The leader then calls out each word of the blessing one by one and the kohanim repeat it.

Traditional practice is not to look at the kohanim while they are reciting the blessing. To ensure this is followed, some have the custom of covering their heads or faces with a prayer shawl, and sometimes even turning their backs on the kohanim.

Outside Israel, the blessing is typically performed only on major holidays. In some communities, there is a custom not to do so when the holiday coincides with Shabbat. In Jerusalem, the ritual is conducted during services every morning. Elsewhere in Israel, practices vary, with some doing it daily and some only on Shabbat. The ritual is generally only performed in the presence of a prayer quorum, or minyan.

In many Reform and Conservative synagogues, the ritual has been dispensed with altogether.”

 

The Priestly Blessing

The Rabbis have taken over the practice or deleted it from their service.

With the move towards the Rabbis having taken over this part of the blessings in  the service, it opened the doors to others, besides the Kohanim, being enabled to bless the assembled congregation.

That would include me. I am a daughter of a Kohen and an ordained Modern Day Rabbi by RSI NYC, June 21, 2012 (Shira’s birthday).

After all, who wouldn’t want to be blessed? Blessings, as do positive thoughts only add positive energy to this world. We know that we are in great need of positive thoughts and energy!

So what do these blessings mean to us today? Let’s go take a peek.

I carefully open up the Etz Hayim chumash, that I cherish as such a valued keepsake  of our tradition and our heritage. I turn to page 803 to glance over the introduction. I then delve into the text and interpretations on pages 804 and 805. What will my children find meaningful? Should I copy word for word, as in a cut and paste job, or can I summarize and inject my own personal intentions and interpretations? I choose the later. I intuit that someone listening would rather have a personalized blessing that speaks to him or her than read a cut and paste job.

I dive in. It states that I am to become a channel for Gd’s priestly blessing. My mind drifted back to my past experiences of channeling. I know that feeling of channeling. I have been there before, several hundred times, when I used to channel the priestly blessing at camp. Sometimes, I was overwhelmed and overcome with emotion, that I was the chosen one to channel the blessing. Sometimes, I fought those emotions and closed them off. I didn’t want to feel those “channeling” feelings, surging and pulsing through me. I wanted to blend into the crowd and await the blessings, raining down from Heaven. But then I remembered the path that had been chosen for me. Gd was beckoning me to come back to my senses and do my due diligence, be Gd’s appointed channeler. A woman? How can that be? How times have changed? Or have they? But I knew that deep in my soul, that Jewish women have played prominent roles in our past history. I needed to step up and step forward. Who else would bless the assembled congregation,  if not the camp Rabbi?

I reset my mind to today, Simhat Torah Covid 2020. It was my duty to channel the Priestly benediction. Should I emphasize that my job as priestess is of the chosen nature? I am commencing to do a holy act for Gd. I work for Gd, yes but I do not hold Divine status.  Here is yet another thought.  Should I share our past history of these inscribed aaronic priestly benediction amulets found at the archeological sites at the city of David post Babylonian exile? Would my children be interested? What would speak to them? I settle with the explanation that this ancient blessing is found in the Torah, taught to me, that it was written or inscribed by the hand of Moses 3300+ years ago, dictated by Gd. (So many opinions on who wrote the Torah and when. I feel that my young adult children are too old to be told that there is one opinion only. Let them research and study. Let them come to believe in their own understanding.)

I begin to dissect the teachings and explanations of each blessing. The first blessing with three words, the second blessing with five words, the third blessing with seven words. In my mind, I understand that three represents our forefathers, five represents Moshe’s Torah, and seven represents a complete unit of Gd’s time. I then study the words.

Line one-“The LORD bless you and protect you!”- I found four interpretations of this verse. 1) by granting you wealth of possessions, you also need to be protected that it won’t be taken from you, (Sifrei). 2) that you may not become corrupted in pursuit of wealth ( Num.Rabbah 11:5), 3) bless you according to your needs as a student in school and of life, as if you were a businessman needing skills to prosper in business, ( Ha-amek Davar) or 4) Soforno adds that you should pray for material gain so that you will have more available charity to give to those in need and provide more opportunities to study Gd’s law.  All thoughts of explanation worked for me. I saw a meaning for each of my four children.

Continuing on to line two, I understood that this spoke of Gd’s attitude toward us  upon receiving this blessing – “The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!”. I found two meanings of this verse. Soforno and Hirsch understand that Gd will enlighten us so that we will understand the purposes of what Gd has in mind for us. Each of my children have different skills and talents. Sam has a great sense of humor and is a creative cook. Shira is a successful social worker. Sarah Rose has a talent to work with special needs and children on the Autistic spectrum.  She has created programs that benefit them in their learning.  It is their duty to share them with the world. Sifrei taught that each of us would be granted with the ability to learn and internalize the light of Torah knowledge. That could not be taken away. That spoke to me of Seth’s situation at hand, studying on his time off at Meor’s Machon Yaakov, located in Har Nof, Jerusalem.

Concluding with line three-“The LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!”. I separated out the two parts of this blessing.  Studying part one,  I wondered which “you” did Gd mean? the singular you or the plural you, or did He mean both? I read further and decided that Gd meant all of “you”. In the first part of the sentence I think that He was speaking to each and everyone of us. Look at the you in the mirror or reflected in the face of the other. What do we look for? According to the text in Ge. 19:21, it means to turn one’s heads toward you in your direction, to grant your request. Taking it one step deeper, in Gen. 40:19, it teaches us that we need to forgive, to look upon someone with favor. Delving further yet, in Deut. 10:17, it teaches us the hope that Gd will forgive our shortcomings. If Gd can forgive us, can we forgive each other and thus even ourselves?

Turning towards part two, I asked myself what does the second part of the blessing add? Peace begins at home and then extended out to our community and to our world at large. I watch the news of how our brothers and sisters in the religious neighborhoods in Israel and here in New York and New Jersey are under attack. They are not being allowed to set their own standards for safety within their own guidelines and using their own shomrim, or guards. If they are not at peace, then we as a people are not. If we Jews are not at peace, then the world is not at peace.

Chaos has wreaked havoc everywhere. We continue to pray for peace. Peace is beseeched everywhere in our prayers; in the Birkat Hamazon (even when we lack enough food), the Amida, the Kaddish, and studying the Mishnah. If we can forgive Gd for not sending us peace in our timely fashion, can Gd then in turn forgive us for not establishing a secure peace? What’s off? Why is the balance not reset and recalibrated?

Simhat Torah is the ultimate reset button for our thoughts, speech and actions. We need to align our thoughts, speech and actions in line with what Gd wants, a full returning to Gd with a joyful, soulful peace. Authentic peace. If we speak about peace and do not mean it, and our world is at war, among ourselves and our fellow nations, how can we bring true peace to our world?

We are the ultimate channelers, Gd’s channelers. We need to stand by and stand up to the words that we bless or that are being blessed upon us. Otherwise, we remain void of blessings. Let us use this holiday time, we refill our blessings cups and remember to bless Gd. Gd has once again left the “light” on.

Numbers: 24-26

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃

The LORD bless you and protect you!

יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃

The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃

The LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!

For the complete text, refer to Sefaria/ Bamidbar/ Numbers 6: 22-27.

Chag Sameach Covid 2020

Rabbi Claire Ginsburg Goldstein

Teddy bear Rabbi, offering virtual teddy bear hugs.

About the Author
Rabbi Claire conceived of the concept Bears from Bergenfield upon a routine check of the Israeli staff at camp SLC August of 2001. She realized that the world needed to wake up and become aware of the suffering the Israelis were enduring as the Palestinians continued their intifada against them. After 18 years and 195,000 teddy bears amassed and redistributed, Rabbi Claire is searching for more public platforms to proliferate and advance her message, that Jewish lives matter, especially with a teddy bear. Rabbi Claire lives in Bergen County with her husband of 38 years, Larry, and their 4 children, Sam, Shira, Seth, and Sarah Rose, plus their incoming son-in-law Ivan. For further information of how to get involved with this endearing project, contact her at lgcg98@aol.com.
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