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Hoshana Rabba 5781 ~ October 9, 2020

Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, once again provides us answers. The last time we studied his words was on the first day of Rosh Hashanah where he offered advice on how to face our fears.  I was curious to hear what he might suggest on celebrating the festival of Simchat Torah during a pandemic.

 One of his students shared how this great Hasidic master understood life in general through the festival of Simchat Torah.  

 As life continues on, albeit precariously, we are still making every attempt to understand how not to bring fear into our own lives while walking the narrow bridge that Reb Nachman speaks of.  However, the need to say a mishebeyrach prayer for the President of the United States did nothing to alleviate the fears we face with regard to the pandemic.  In fact, I am certain it only served to heighten our awareness of our fears. 

 At the same time, it is a tradition to attend services on the final days of the fall season of festivals, recite Yizkor and also to dance with the Sefer Torah, as we complete its reading and begin its teachings all over again.  Clearly none of us here in the modern New London Jewish community feel comfortable joining together for services in person, passing the Torah from one to another, and dancing horas in a circle.  That simply is something that is not going to happen.  Even with the phase three openings just yesterday, the concept of pikuach nefesh, preservation of life, takes precedence over dancing with the Torah in public.

So, what was it that this student gleaned from his meetings with his rebbe?  In his monumental treatise (Sichot HaRan) this student shares:

“It was my custom to see the Rebbe every year after Simchat Torah. He would always ask me if I truly rejoiced on the festival....Many times he told me how the community celebrated in his house and how much pleasure he derived from their joy. Once the Rebbe spoke to me about Simchat Torah in the middle of the year....The Rebbe very much wanted us to be joyous all year round, particularly on Simchat Torah, Purim, Shabbat and festivals....The Rebbe told me that once on Simchat Torah he was so overjoyed that he danced all by himself in his room.”

What a jovial idea. As a matter of fact, just this past week, a congregant answered the phone out of breath. When I asked if she needed a moment, she responded, “Sure, I saw it was you calling; I was dancing with my husband in the kitchen.” Now that is Reb Nachman taken to heart.  Then, I thought about it more carefully.  I just finished explaining to some of my new neighbors what this thing called a sukkah is. They listened as I tried to share with them what their new meshugeneh rabbi neighbor was doing.  “Interesting” was the response. But how does one explain holding onto a Sefer Torah and dancing by oneself around what our family has termed Kehillat Ahavat Leah, better known as our basement?!!!! 

I guess you might simply have to join together with us at the Liberal Jewish Community of New London’s services this Saturday morning at 10 a.m. to find out what I might decide to do. Then again there are several other rabbis in our community that may end up celebrating in a similar manner.  And who knows, you may want to do the same, holding onto an Etz Hayim Chumash or perhaps even a miniature Torah that you might have in your possession.

I hope that you will also join us tonight at 7 p.m. for our community’s joint Yom Tov and Shabbat service led by the clergy of Temple Emanu-El, together with a Simchat Torah cabaret of musicians, comedians, etc. from all of the five congregations in our Southeast Connecticut Jewish community.


Shabbat shalom and Chag Same’ach.

Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782