Dear WJC Family,
This Shabbat has a special name: Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance. It is observed on the Shabbat immediately preceding the festive (and sometimes silly) holiday of Purim. Even though on Purim we turn the threat of Haman and his genocidal, Antisemitic decree into a laughing matter, those that celebrate the holiday are well aware that he and all his hateful brethren are no joke. It is a fact that has popped up too often in our history – Biblical Egypt, Spain in 1942, Europe in 1938, Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City and Monsey.
On Shabbat Zachor, just before we laugh in the face of the haters, we remind ourselves of the seriousness of the matter. The rabbis associate all virulent Antisemites with the Biblical tribe of Amalek and on Shabbat we will read a special portion of the Torah that reminds us to be ever vigilant when it comes to Amalek.
How should we combat Amalek? Just after the newly freed Israelites crossed the Red Sea, the Amalekites attacked the weakened people from the rear where the weakest people would be. Moses tells Joshua to pick strong fighters from among the people (remember these people were slaves just a few weeks prior) and to lead them into battle. Meanwhile, Moses ascends a hilltop where he can view the battle, accompanied by his brother Aaron and Hur. As long as Moses keeps his hands raised, Joshua and his troops succeed, but if they drop, they are beaten. Over time his hands get heavy and Joshua and Hur support them for him. Why didn’t God just zap the Amalekites with a plague? What can we learn from the business with the hand-holding?
The passage is telling us that some battles cannot be fought alone; that when we are most anxious and scared and are tempted to stick our heads in the ground—that is when we need to rally together and support each other. We are living once again in a time when Amalek is threatening; when Antisemitism is on the rise all too close. The only response is the one of Aaron and Hur, to prop each other up with mitzvahs like tzedakah and acts of kindness, to support our Jewish brethren and institutions in need of protection and not to allow our fear to get the better of us. Amalek fails when the Jewish people face them down together.
This week we have also been anxious because of the presence of the covid-19 virus in the nearby Jewish community. Please read the messages WJC has sent out regarding the measures being taken for all of our protection. This is another case when we need to be vigilant in our response, not let our fear get the better of us, and support one another (though no hand-holding or hand-shaking this time!) This is a very serious situation, but the county Department of Health has told us that there is no reason to cancel any of our programming. We only ask that if you are not feeling well, please stay home and get better, but if you feel good, we hope you’ll join us for Shabbat with one of our assistant rabbi candidates, Rabbi Cornelia Dalton, our Purim Carnival on Sunday and Purim Megillah Reading on Monday night.
So please wash your hands with soap frequently for at least 20 seconds; and we will refrain from handshaking, hugging, kissing or other close contact at services, including no handshaking line with the clergy and officer at the end of services.
It should be a great Shabbat – Rabbi Segelman will be giving the drasha at the regular Friday service at 5:30pm and Rabbi Dalton will be giving the kavanot (brief focusing talks) at Rhythm and Ruach at 7:30pm. On Saturday morning at 8:45 Rabbi Segelman will be teaching the shiur entitled, “How Purim Brings Out the Best in a Person” and Rabbi Dalton will be delivering the sermon. In the afternoon there is a mincha bat mitzvah and I will be teaching the minchah shiur in the regular minyan entitled, “What makes Haman an Amalekite,” where we will explore the characters of Haman and Amalek to better understand Antisemitism, how hatred works and our part in perpetuating it. There will be several more opportunities to meet and learn with Rabbi Dalton on Sunday, so please check the schedule and join us.
Lastly, I want to mention a very special siyyum ceremony that will be taking place at the end of services this week, just before Aleinu. A number of WJC members have started the daf yomi project, learning a page of Talmud for seven and a half years when they will have completed the whole corpus of Talmudic literature. They are just finishing up the first tractate on Saturday and so they will be celebrating with the siyyum, a short ceremony, and prayer, to mark the simcha of completing a book of Jewish study. We are very excited to celebrate with them.
Now, on a more serious note (but not really), please watch the video below which expresses my sincere regret for the recent scandal regarding our 613 Mitzvah Campaign this past fall.
See you in shul,