I know I am not alone when I share that yesterday morning, as I sang the psalms of Hallel to mark the new moon of Nissan, I wept.
מִֽן־הַ֭מֵּצַ֥ר קָרָ֣אתִי יָּ֑הּ
From this narrow place, I call out to you.
אָנָּא יְהֹוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא
Please, Our Source, Our Sovereign, save us.
As I sang these words I thought of the compassionate group of KT members who have been calling other community members to check in. I thought of the phone calls we have made to detention centers and arraignment courts and senators, city council, and state representatives, demanding rent, eviction, and foreclosure freezes, widespread prison bailouts, and debt forgiveness.
And all at once, the opening of the book of Vayikra made a lot more sense to me. This week's parsha begins,
וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מועֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃
"The Holy One called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying…" (Lev 1:1).
Perplexed by the seeming redundancy of The Holy One calling to Moses and then speaking to him, Rashi explains, "Whenever God commanded, instructed, or spoke to Moses, God always called to Moses first. Kriah, 'calling' is an expression of tenderness and affection." I love to imagine The Holy One as the Hesed committee, calling to check in on Moses who has by every measure been through a lot thus far.
Rashi continues, "[Calling] is also an expression used by the ministering angels, as it is written, 'One angel calls another saying: Holy, holy, holy is Hashem, Lord of Hosts, filling the whole world with awareness of the Divine' (Isaiah 6:3)." In fact it is this very passage that becomes the core moment of collective calling out in our kedusha, as we emulate the heavenly hosts and call one to another.
Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Shapira, known as the Esh Kodesh, was a chasidic rebbe who ministered to his people in the Warsaw Ghetto. He gave a d'var Torah every week. This week, 80 years ago, Rabbi Shapira explained to his people what it means to "call out" to another.
"There may be another, deeper explanation as well...An ancient Aramaic translation of this verse from Isaiah reads, 'They receive from one another and say Holy holy holy...'" Here, calling is translated as receiving.
Rabbi Shapira explains, "If a Jew hears of the suffering of others and does what they can to help, and if their heart breaks and blood congeals in their veins at the story of their friend's troubles, then angels are empowered...The calling/receiving that comes from sharing suffering is very loud, and so the angels call out to one another in voices loud with compassion for the suffering of [the Jewish] people."
Rabbi Shapira reminds us that our capacity to call is inseparable from our capacity to receive.
And so we are reminded in psalm 118:5:
מִֽן־הַ֭מֵּצַ֥ר קָרָ֣אתִי יָּ֑הּ עָנָ֖נִי בַמֶּרְחָ֣ב יָֽהּ
In distress I called out to the Holy One,
And the Holy One answered me and brought me relief.
Calling and receiving are both holy acts in these times.
Being willing to extend care and a phone call.
And be willing to receive care and groceries and a phone call.
So sacred is this dance of calling/receiving, says Rabbi Shapira, that it is an act that has reverberations in the Heavens, it impacts the cosmos, it allows the angels to call out to one another.
My friend and comrade Rev. Naomi Leapheart-Washington posted on social media this week:
"Things won't be the same after this. I hope one of the things that persists is the way most people seem to be moving more gently, more graciously around each other...the way every conversation begins with 'How ARE you?' and ends with 'Be well.' and we seem to *mean* it. You know?"
May the Holy Blessed One renew this month for us, and for all who dwell on earth, for life and for health, for joy and for peace, for salvation and for comfort. And may we continue to call out to one another and receive from each other with tenderness and affection. And may we continue to really mean it.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek Synagogue through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.