The Stones We Lift

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, January 20, 2023 / 27 Tevet 5783

Summary: I reflect on how an obscure law of muktzeh can teach us about the power of communal support in difficult times and provide an update on our “adopted” Ukrainian family.

Reading Time: Three minutes

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz had a social media post this week that touched me, for it spoke to where I find myself these days. He wrote:

“A halacha of Shabbos muktzeh teaches us about human dignity. For observant Jews, we have objects that are muktzeh (can’t be touched on Shabbos to preserve the sanctity of the day). One of those objects is a rock. Unless a rock was designated before Shabbos to have a unique purpose on Shabbos, you can’t move it. But, nu, what if your sweet little child is holding a rock and wants you to pick her up? Should you require that she drop the rock first? Nope, Rashi (Shabbos 141b) says if the child has ‘ga’aguin’ (a deep desire for her parent to pick her up) that we should do it lest the child become sick. Now our kids are not going to become sick by us not picking them up every time they want but the halacha is teaching us a lesson about valuing people. We need so deeply to be held, cherished, and valued. Sometimes we’re all carrying things in life that we, ideally, shouldn’t be carrying (physically, emotionally, spiritually). But those who care about us can’t just tell us to drop them. Rather, they just need to hold us & love us fiercely.”

Isn’t that a lovely comment? I remember the associated Jewish laws around this issue from many years ago, during a discussion about baby carriages in Manhattan, but hadn’t thought of it in years. Muktzeh is not a category of Jewish law that informs the life of most Conservative Jews; my children, meanwhile, are past the age when they need me to literally pick them up.

This past week, I have often felt like that young child described in the halakhah, but of course, my mom can’t fulfill that need since it is she for whom I pine. In her place, this community has filled in. So many of you have sent cards or tzedakah in her memory, and each of these acts has provided my family and me with solace. Another Jewish law describes how visiting the ill removes 1/60th of their malady. Our ancestors understood empirical biology sufficiently well to recognize that a disease wouldn’t magically disappear after the sixtieth visitor. Rather, this law reminds us that the social component of sickness, which often isolates us, must also be addressed if healing is to occur. In this regard, addressing the social needs of a grieving individual performs a similar function. I am attempting to respond to each of these beautiful gestures, but I am sure there will be missed responses because of the sheer volume. For this, I apologize in advance, and hope that this public thank you will suffice.

The Ukrainians Are Coming, The Ukrainians Are Coming

This morning, Sara Safdie, Marc Blatner, and I toured the now-furnished home which our Portland community has organized for the Levit family who were displaced by the war in Ukraine. The home is lovely, and I am so grateful that our CNS community and so many other organizations have given a new chance to this lovely family.

It is possible that they will be here by next Shabbat, so we are all quite excited. Special thanks go to Sara Safdie and our entire Shalom Portland welcoming committee, which has labored tirelessly for many months now, as well as Marc Blatner at The Federation. Additionally, so many other people have been generous that it would be impossible to mention everyone by name, but I do want to give a special call out to congregants Danit Rothstein, for her amazing work at Community Warehouse, as well as the Stones, who donated two brand new queen beds from their store, BedMart.

Once the family and their three cats have an opportunity to decompress and feel a bit more settled after nearly a year of upheaval, we will invite them to a Shabbat service where we will introduce them to the community as a whole. Well, maybe not the cats…

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

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