I want to tell you about my amazing Shabbat last week.

It came on the third day of a five-day retreat we held for about 25 members of our IJS Sustainers Circle, a group composed of former board members, alumni of our Kivvun program, and major donors. The retreat was full of meditation sessions, rich and musical prayer tefilah (prayer), mindful movement, mindful eating, and a lot of love.

But Shabbos took it to a whole different level.

And there was one moment that stood out in particular. It came as we were starting Shabbat dinner on Friday night. My dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Miriam Margles, reminded us all that this time is traditionally one of bracha, blessing. In my own home, as in many others, it’s a moment when parents offer blessings to their children. So Miriam invited us into this opportunity for blessing, but–this was an IJS retreat, so, of course–to do it perhaps a little differently than we usually do. We were to turn to a neighbor and look into their face. Each of us would share, honestly and from the heart, the blessing we needed just then. Our partner would listen attentively and then offer that blessing to us.

My partner was another member of the retreat faculty, the wonderful Rabbi Jonathan Kligler. And in this moment, I was able to look at Jonathan, be held by the embrace of his face, and share with him very openly the bracha I felt like I needed in that moment. Jonathan took my hand and offered exactly that blessing. And then I did the same for him. I know we weren’t the only pair in which tears were shed. It was a deeply moving experience.

It is always a profound thing to be seen and heard deeply like this. Being fully present with someone else, offering and receiving blessing–it felt as if, for that moment, we were like the two keruvim, the two cherubs that faced one another atop the holy ark. The Divine presence was revealed within us and between us. And that was happening all around the room.

But what also enabled that moment to be so meaningful was its ritual element: It took place at Shabbos dinner. It drew power from our mutual submission to and upholding of the rhythms of Jewish time. While in theory this showing up for one another, this “presencing,” could have taken place anywhere and anytime, in practice our ritual made it both more accessible and richer than it would have been otherwise.

Parashat Emor (Leviticus 21-24) details the holiday calendar: “These are My fixed times, the fixed times of YHVH, that you shall proclaim as sacred occasions” (Lev. 23:2). Beginning with Shabbat, the parasha goes on to enumerate the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, the counting of the Omer, and the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Opening his commentary on this passage, the 13th century Spanish commentator Ramban (Nachmanides) observes that, while much of Leviticus is directed specifically to the priests, this passage is meant to be shared with the entire people. Why? “The priests have no greater duties with regard to the festivals than the Israelites, therefore the Holy One did not admonish Aaron and his sons in this section, but the children of Israel, a term which includes all of them together.” All of us, Ramban suggests, regardless of background or station, have a share in these times; all of us can access them; all of us uphold them. These are not special rites of professional ritualists; they are the inheritance and responsibility of the entire Jewish people.

There’s no rocket science in that, of course, just a rearticulation of a basic truth. The challenge–for me, anyway, and perhaps for you too–is that they can become ritualized and, in the process, lose some of what the ritual is supposed to help us do. Our moadim, our sacred times, are invitations to deeper awareness, a richer encounter with the Divine within ourselves and one another. Every week on Shabbat, and then throughout the other special moments of our holiday calendar, we can step into an opportunity for blessing, pause and rest through which we recognize the presence of the Shechina within, between, and among us. What an incredible gift, what an astonishing inheritance.

Josh’s Friday Reflections

Every Friday morning, IJS President & CEO Rabbi Josh Feigelson shares a short reflection on the week in preparation for Shabbat. Josh weaves together personal experience, mindfulness practice, and teachings from the weekly Torah portion in a uniquely accessible and powerful way. Sign up to receive Josh’s weekly reflections here.

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