With this Shabbat we close the Festival of Passover. The Torah reading relates the Exodus and the Sea of Reeds. As is tradition, a m’gillah (scroll) is part of the observance of the festival. In this case, it is the book Song of Songs (Shir Ha Shirim) the book of poetry that is embraced with verses of desire and a yearning for connection. The text speaks of a man and a woman and their desire for each other. The traditional commentary sees this as symbolic of the relationship between God and Israel. “The statements of desire and love are read as expressions of love and intimacy between God and Israel” (Jewish Study Bible. p.1560). Some haddadot include verses from Song of Songs as part of the text.
The theme of yearning for connection is something that is of primary concern now. Recent studies have shown a continuing decline in affiliation with institutional religion. Yet, the country retains a desire for connection with something beyond the self. As one non religious based publication recently put it: “They have rejected the institutions of religion, in other words, but not the religious urge–including a yearning for moral certainty and communal identity–that churches and synagogues have traditionally catered to.” (The Economist. March 27, 2021. p, 28) This is, I suggest, a powerful message for us. We yearn for connection. Heschel wrote of this “need to be needed”. At the heart of this discussion for congregations, is the challenge to meet needs, to reach out to people’s needs in a fundamental and spiritualy based way. Community and connection are serious needs, especially as we get older. How can we make sure that our people feel that connection, that sense that they are needed by the community and by the institution and, at the same time, their needs are met by that same community and institution. For people in need of being needed, will go to where they get those needs met. That is our challenge.
It is not enough to say that God needs us, or that “we need God”! This connection deficit maybe the most challenging aspect of post-pandemic Judaism. How we respond may well determine what much of our Jewish future looks like. Already we are seeing the rise in groups and organizations that exist and thrive outside of the traditional institutional networks. This is an opportunity for great creativity, if we choose to see it. Once again, the choice is ours.
Moadim L’simcha. Chag Sameach. Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Richard F Address