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April 3, 2020
9 Nisan 5780

Parashat Tzav
Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36

Dear Friends,

In thinking about the seder this year, there is a great deal that will be different. But the element of blessing at both the beginning and the end of the seder will remain. The very first thing we do is to light candles and offer a blessing. And so the blessings of the night begin, even this year, which is unlike any other we have ever experienced.

This past Saturday, after Shabbat, I was asked to teach on the subject of blessing to our Riverdale Jewish community -- in particular the grace recited at the end of the meal (Birkat Hamazon), which is a key component of the seder. I was allowed to use the idea of blessing as a starting point, and that is where I would like to begin with all of you.

I ask you to situate yourselves in the moment we are in right now – the extremely difficult moment we are in right now. Acknowledge it. Take it in. Our daily lives have changed. When everything is upside down, how do we create meaning?

Let us take that thought in for a moment. There may be those among you who bless regularly, fulfilling the Talmudic obligation (Menachot 43B) to bless 100 times a day. There are those who never utter a blessing all day long. This thought brings me to the question -- what does it mean to bless? And why do we as human beings have the power to offer blessings?

The Hebrew word for blessing, bracha, shares the same letters as the word for pool (b’raycha), giving power to the idea that a blessing links us to the source of all that is. It also shares a root with the word for kneel (nivrachah), intimating that blessings have the capacity to focus on what is and what will be. This focus makes offering a blessing a very powerful action. The ability to bless is linked with the ability to be fully present in a given moment, to see the holiness of that which we have been given, to be grateful.

Every Friday night when we make Motzei and bless the challah, the blessing is really an acknowledgement of the many hands that go into making a loaf of bread. None of us has ever seen bread spring forth from the earth as either a tree or a bush, as the Hebrew of the blessing might indicate. The blessing is a connector, recognizing that each of us has the capacity and the potential of being a source of blessing to another person, given that each of us was created bezelem elohim, in the image of the Divine.

For the last number of weeks we have been living in a new reality, one where the blessings we encounter are new or heightened. I invite you to take a moment and silently review the blessings of the last week – all that you are grateful for in ways you could not have imagined.

In the course of the seder, the third cup of wine follows the grace after meals (Birkat Hamzon). The kavanah (meditation) of the third cup speaks to the moment we are currently in, as we recall the promise of Divine redemption: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and extraordinary judgements.”

May it be so. Keyn Yihi Ratzon. May our redemption be close at hand and may healing ensue.

Wishing all of you a Passover of hope and possibility as we connect in new ways seeking strength from one another.

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, September 19 2020 1 Tishrei 5781