Drash on Parashat Eikev
Rabbi Adi Cohen
Temple Shalom Gold Coast, Queensland
Becoming us, again
A community is not a building, nor a house. It is our extended Jewish family, our home away from home. It is the place where we share our moments of joy, where we find comfort when we mourn, where we affirm our Jewish identity amongst other Jewish people doing Jewish things. A community is a sense of longing and belonging: longing for God’s presence in our lives and belonging to our people.
“And you will eat, and you will be satisfied, and you will bless Adonai your God, upon the good land that God has given you.”
Birkat HaMazon (grace after a meal) is recited after a meal containing bread or similar foods (foods made from the five grains). Aside from Birkat Cohanim (the Priestly Blessing), it is the only blessing of biblical origin in our tradition, found in our Parasha this week.
The fascinating thing about this blessing is our sages' sensitivity to the circles of community and belonging.
Typically, the blessing is recited individually. One should express his or her gratitude to God for the mundane, just as for the profound. Eating however, in many occasions like Shabbat and festivals, is a family or a social gathering.
When three adults or more eat bread as part of a meal, one should invite the others to join the blessing (the Zimmun). This will usually happen among the family or among an intimate group of people.
When there are more than 10 adults, we add an extended Zimmun B’shem. This time, we are in a bigger social construct as part of a community.
During the past year, due to the COVID19 pandemic, we have experienced a tremendous change in our individual and communal life. The individual and the family spheres have become our work, study and dwelling spaces. The public spheres, and our Beit Knesset among it, were out of reach.
We learnt to form Zoom minyanim, to attend Shiurim on line, to sign up for weekly Divrei Torah and to log in to live streamed services.
We had to find a way to be Jewish on our own; to say the blessing on our own. And we did. We had to find a way to be Jewish within our family units at home; to form a mini-community and add the Zimmun. And we did.
Now that we can gradually attend our synagogues as houses of prayer, study and assembly, we need to make sure that they can still serve their purpose. I will be blunt: your minyan needs you. Your congregation needs your help.
Your membership fees and your financial contribution are more important than ever for the survival of your synagogue. Flash lockdowns will continue to happen. Masks, social distancing and other regulations will continue to come and go. Jewish communities have endured harder times before and yet we inherited the wisdom, the legacy and the covenant of generations before us.
Whether or not our children and our children’s children will inherit strong communities of faith is in our hands: each and every one of us.
When the Israelites built the Tent of Meeting, God’s instructions were: “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).
A community is a sense of longing and belonging: longing for God’s presence in our lives and belonging to our people. Now is the time to rebuild our sanctuaries, to strengthen our communities, and to support our religious leadership, so that we and the generations to come can say a blessing in a minyan with a Zimmun B’Shem: to have a spiritual home where we can feel God’s presence dwelling with us.
Go to your congregation this Shabbat, if you are allowed to. Recite a blessing. Make sure it will be there for years to come.