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A Time To Refrain From Embracing (Kohelet 3:5)

Our community’s journey in 5781 follows the story of the transformation of our ancestors from Hebrew slaves in Egypt to being the people of Israel on the borders of the Promised Land. Maybe we can see parallels between that story and our present experience of the dire straits currently afflicting us all in different ways and the path towards freedom and better health.

This Shabbat, we read the Song at the Sea – a long celebration by Moses of the escape from tyranny. We know that we cannot yet celebrate our freedom, but we can and should look forward with optimism to a future time when we can safely move more freely around, and a time when we can embrace each other safely again. As the well-known chapter from the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) states: “A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” Around 2,500 years ago, such circumstances as ours were clearly understood!

How do we navigate these times? Here again, Kohelet can be helpful, just a few verses further on. There, the writer tells us firstly to enjoy what we have. We ought to focus on what we are blessed with, and not what we don’t have, what we can still do, not what we are currently prevented from doing. We refrain from embracing, because we know that this is what is needed at this time, and because refraining now is part of what will enable us to embrace again at some time in the future.

Then the writer tells us to “do what is good in their lifetime”. As my friend and colleague Rabbi Pete Tobias puts it at the end of his book Putting the ‘o’ in God, “Finding God is about finding in ourselves the ability and the potential to bring goodness into the lives of others. That’s it.” (Incidentally, we aim to bring Rabbi Pete to ELELS before he heads off to new pastures in California this summer.)

At this time, we or others around us may be feeling the mid-winter blues. There is no magic solution to these times, no click of the fingers to take us to freedom. We cannot rely on the equivalent of God parting the waves, so that we can cross over to freedom. Instead, we can help each other along, ease each other’s mood by a word or act of kindness. Let this be the steady theme of our ELELS community over the coming weeks!

I also want to remind you of the words of our Chair, Stewart Spivack, in his message of ten days ago entitled ‘a virtual cuddle‘: If you feel in need for help, or just someone to chat to, please let your community know and do not suffer alone. Stewart can be contacted directly on 07745 790869, or you can email the Synagogue Office. (Although our Office is closed, our emails are monitored). Our Phone Tree continues to be in operation- so if you would like a regular call, please let us know, and we are also able to arrange support with shopping and deliveries.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard Jacobi

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