Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas and Shabbat: A Messianic Moment

Who needs Hanukkah, when this year, Christmas coincides with an even more important Jewish holiday: Shabbat!

Everyone's anticipating the coming of the Messiah this week - even some traditional Jews, citing an oft quoted Talmudic aphorism that the Messiah will come when all Jews observe two Shabbats in a row. The way I see it, the rabbis then knew what rabbis now know - that there's as much likelihood of that happening as for all Jews to agree about which synagogue to join or whether fluffy matzah balls taste better than chewy ones. The sages' goal was both to encourage greater Sabbath observance AND to help people understand that the advent of the messianic era is likely a long way off. That paradoxical blend of urgent action and profound patience has fueled the Jewish Way for two thousand years. But no one is patient these days, particularly Jewish messianists who think that the advent of the End of Days is at hand.

Well, for our Christian neighbors, Advent is now approaching its zenith, and for them Christmas is a time to proclaim the Good News of a Messianic arrival. So what does this have to do with Jews? Well, because everything will be closed tonight and tomorrow - on Shabbat - Jews, like Christians will not be working. No one will be working (except for those who own Chinese restaurants). Like it or not, most Jews will ll be observing Shabbat! Now, if we simply get all of them to light candles, make kiddush and come to services, this week AND next week, we'll be home free.

Of course, by this logic, if we succeed in bringing the Jewish Messiah, will have Jesus to thank! Jeez, this is confusing. And whose Messiah would come in that case, theirs or ours? That's why they call it the Messiah - it's so darn MESSY.

Messianism is messy, but it's also alluring and, in my mind, necessary. We'll be discussing that tomorrow morning at services and at our Kosher Chinese Kiddush lunch. Join us - and preview the discussion materials by clicking here. And just think: if every Jew were to come to services tomorrow....

Join us tonight too, at 7:30 PM in the chapel. A note of thanks to those who will be volunteering today at local homeless shelters. Once the sun goes down and Shabbat begins, the official TBE involvement in the program will end (we value volunteering and helping the homeless tremendously, but Christmas can't trump Shabbat - it's a legal fiction we've used whenever the 24th falls on a Friday), but I know many individuals will still be volunteering and I appreciate their dedication. I also invite all of them to join us for services after your stint at Pacific House or St Lukes shelters. What a perfect way to make a meaningful evening even more meaningful.

I invite the rest of you too. We'll have a relatively small crowd tonight and could use some warm bodies. The cantorial B-team will be featured (me), but don't let that dissuade you! I can't promise any egg nog, but maybe a little Manischewitz?

Meanwhile, as many head off to warmer and colder climes for the remainder of 2010, we can take stock this week and realize that we have much to be thankful for. Here at Beth El, these are very exciting times, and, as I step back and breathe deeply following five especially frenetic months, I'm especially grateful for the spiritual renaissance that is taking place here, thanks in large part to Cantor Mordecai and our revitalized Shabbat services. I'm grateful for all my other dedicated co-workers too, and our lay leadership - and all of you - for the support you continually provide. We've gotten some very nice end-of-year donations in for our challenge grant. Your help is always appreciated.

We may not be heading into a Messianic era (my guess is that we are not), but some believe that the Messiah is actually already here. Sublime perfection is right in front of our noses. We just need to notice it. And appreciate it.

Merry Shabbos to all...

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