Submitted by Rabbi Arthur Waskow on
Dear chevra, The point of this letter is to invite you into a five-evening once-a-week conversation about the Torah reading of that week, with me as guide and “weaver,” via Zoom. What follows is an explanation of why and how.
Last week I mentioned in my weekly Shalom Report that our Shabbos-morning one-hour Torah study that has for years been gathering in Philadelphia was now going to happen through what I call “distance reconnection” (NOT “social distancing” ) through Zoom. Several people wrote me asking whether they could join by Zoom.
I talked with the existing group, and they/ we agreed we would prefer to keep the group as intimate as it has been.AND – what emerged is that I should set up a separate group to examine a passage of the Torah portion of the week, not on Shabbat but earlier in the week – and in a different framework but using the same approach.
So I am inviting you to join in such a Zoom conversation that I “weave” rather than lead in conventional ways..
Here is the practice and process I am inviting you into:
1. I choose a passage from the weekly Torah that seems to me likely to engage our own lives. For example, I might choose the passage where ancient Israelites ae facing the Reed Sea ahead of them and Pharaoh’s Army close behind
2. I invite the community to search back into their/our own lives and each of us to bring to awareness a moment when they faced what seemed an impossible choice. Silently, each of us recalls how that felt: in our guts, our arms and legs, our heart, our breath.
3. After a very few minutes of silent lifting-up such a moment, I say in a midrashic English version and then in Hebrew the blessing over Torah-study in words that celebrate “Yahhh, Breath of Life” instead of “Adonai, Lord,” and “Ruach Ha’Olam, Breathing Spirit of the world,” instead of “Melekh, King of the world.”4. Then we read aloud in English, with different readers reading paragraph by paragraph around the “circle,” the passage I have chosen. The passage is usually from the weekly portion. Sometimes I choose that week’s Haftarah instead; sometimes, as in the pre-Passover special Shabbats we are now in the midst of, it is a special reading traditionally set aside.
(Last week, that special portion was about the “Red Heifer” ceremony to release a person who has been in contact with a dead body from the awe-struck, uncanny spiritual state of “tumah” into a more communal spiritual state. We connected it with the creation of “distance reconnection” as a response to the Coronavirus deadliness. And we took into awareness our own contacts with death.)
If we are using a passage from the Five Books or a Haftarah from the Early Prophets that have been translated into English by Everett Fox, we read his translation, because in my view it is by far the best translation of the Hebrew Bible into English. (The Five Books of Moses and The Early Prophets, both published by Schocken Books.)
5. Then we talk about the passage and about our lives. Our lives become part of Torah and the Torah becomes part of our lives. We talk in the worlds of emotion and Spirit as well as in the world of Intellect. I may add a thought and weave the conversation together. The D’var Torah that emerges is collective and multiflavored.
6. When an hour is up, we close with my sharing an embodied and somewhat midrashic version of Kaddish d’Rabbanan, the prayer that honors the holy process of learning and teaching.
, I welcome you to join with me in this process by Zoom for five Thursday evenings, from 7 pm to 9 pm Eastern Time, starting Thursday evening MARCH 19. We will skip Thursday evening April 9 because it is the night of the Second Seder. The evenings we will gather will be March 19 and 26, April 2, 16, and 23.
Please click to the following link: https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/register?reset=1&id=26
The total cost for taking part in these five Zoom conversations is $45 (paid to The Shalom Center, not to me). You can pay on-line. Once you have registered, we will send you the link for the Zoom Torah-study.
I look forward to joining with you!