January 2015 Scroll article

Last month, I wrote about the importance Judaism places on the concept of time and place.  This month, I approach the same concepts, but with a different issue in mind.  In the middle of December, I sat with a group of seven folks enjoying Shabbat Morning in our Temple gardens.  We offered the prayers of the service and had a chance to walk through our gardens.  We saw what was growing and flourishing, what needed attention, and which spaces still needed structural work to be used for study or prayer.  As we closed our service, I stepped out of Halacha, Jewish law.  According to Jewish law, a group only says Kaddish out loud if there is a minyan of adults present.  As I stood in this place, with this group of people, I felt that while there were only seven of us present, there had been so many deaths in our congregation in the past week or so, that I did not want to skip the opportunity to acknowledge those losses, honor those  who had died, and send whatever caring energy we could to those who were saying goodbye to loved ones.  As I spoke to the group about this piece of Jewish law, I called attention to a principle that Rabbis apply to sacred time.  If you look at some of our holidays, Rosh HaShanah, Passover, Sukkot, you will notice there are multiple Holy days.  The reasoning behind this is that in Torah, G-d declares that the Holy day is to fall on particular dates, either a full moon or new moon.  In order to ensure that the holy day coincides with the events of history (like the Exodus from Egypt) and the astronomical alignment perscribed by Torah, the Rabbis expanded the boundary of that  preuse.  With two Holy days, we have 48 hours to make sure that we do the proper ritual, with a meaningful community, at the “right” moment.  This expansion of time to create a wider window for a ritual moment repeats often in Jewish life.  While Jewish ritual law focuses on doing particular actions and texts at particular times, the window of that time is expanded to give us the opportunity to do them. It is an incredible balance of precision and flexibility.  

            I held out this principle as we recited Kaddish, honoring those who had died in this season in years past, and those who had died in the past year during this service.  I pointed out that while there were only 7 present in that moment, that the night before our sanctuary had been full and that by the next morning, another segment of our community would fill the spaces of our campus.  Some of those who had been there had been mourners and others had been caregivers.  My offer resonated more than I realized. One of the people with us at that service had experienced a loss and our Kaddish was vital to him.

As I witnessed this happening, I understood that we have to be more conscious of living this principle.  When we gather for prayer, we should extend our sense of time and place to be aware of others who have come to pray already, and those who will be offering prayer in the near future,. Then, with our virtual minyan spread over a span of time, we can create and strengthen not just a sense of sacred community, but amplify the energy and ability to heal, center, and empower us as a whole.


Rabbi Michael Birnholz