Newsletter            March 7, 2013 - 25 Adar 5773
   Reaching hands    

 The Reaching Hands of Shabbat     

"I never travel by train, I see how crowded they are when I drive past the tracks. But from the platform that day I saw something new. A train was leaving, completely packed, and the men running alongside gave up. All except one. I kept my eyes on him, because the platform was coming to an end.
"Suddenly, he raised his arms. And people on the train reached out and grabbed them. What were they doing, he would be dragged and killed, I thought!  A moment later, they had lifted him off the platform. Now his feet were dangling outside the compartment, and I almost screamed to stop the train. His feet peddled the air. They found a tiny spot on the edge, slipped off, found it again.
"There he was, hanging, his life literally in the hands of strangers. And he had put it there. He had trusted them. More arms reached out and held him tight in their embrace. It was a miracle! Suddenly he was completely safe.
"Whose hands were they, and whose hands were they grasping? Hindu, Muslim, Dalit, Parsi, Christian? No one knew and no one cared. Fellow passengers, that's all they were." ("Family Matters" by Rohinton Mistry)

The imagery of the hands reaching out to grab the stranger is how I read the opening verse of this week's portion. "Moses assembled the entire congregation of the Children of Israel (Exodus 35:1)." Moses wants to teach the laws of Shabbat and the Tabernacle only to people whose hands are reaching out to each other.  He begins with Shabbat rather than the Tabernacle because the latter, the House of Prayer for All Nations, obviously demands hands reaching out to others. Moses wants us to understand that the day that celebrates Creation must include everyone. "They keep Shabbat differently," is a hand withdrawn, not a hand reaching out. "They don't eat Cholent and Kugel as all Jews should," is a clenched fist not an open hand. We pray differently. Our customs vary. Our dress differs. Where are the hands that reach for each other?

I found the answer while searching for an old black and white film I had seen as a child. All I remembered was hearing Sarasate playing a wonderful piece he had composed. I found it on YouTube. It was his Zapateado. My YouTube search also listed other performers playing the same piece: Itzhak Perlman, Jascha Heifetz, and Midori. I couldn't believe that I preferred the later performances to that of the original composer. I then listened to a young woman, Esther Kim, playing the piece in a way that moved me far more than all the others. Each virtuoso studies previous performances of the piece and then adds his or her own interpretation. Sarasate's original piece is renewed with each interpretation. No wonder the first commandment that God gives the Children of Israel is Hachodesh, or, "Make things new!" God wants each generation to apply and interpret each piece of Torah so that every generation experiences something new in the same laws that have been observed for millennia. These are the hands of previous generations reaching out to ours, and our hands grasping them and pulling them forward into the future, connecting, keeping them alive. This is the true, "l'olam va'ed," the "forever and ever," of our covenant with God.

The hands are not only reaching up to the past or down to the future. When we treasure the different customs, food, and dress, of others keeping Shabbat, our hands are reaching out to them,  adding new insights that breathe life into each Shabbat, so that no Shabbat is "old," but is fresh. Moses assembles the entire congregation of Israel to receive the Shabbat laws because it is only with this reaching out and grasping different insights and new interpretations that we add the HaChodesh to each Shabbat. Only when we understand the Reaching Hands of Shabbat can we build a real House of Prayer for All Nations; learning from all cultures, honoring their wisdom, breathing fresh air, Hachodesh, the "new," into the place that derives its holiness from its ability to incorporate the beauty of the entire Creation.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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