Shabbat Message - Shabbat Shmini/Parah

Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,

It's been a little over three weeks since our family's lives became even more whole with the addition of our daughter, Layla Eden. Thanks to an understanding congregation, I was able to take three weeks of paternity leave to spend some precious time with our daughter and help out at home while Alissa recovered. I wish every father in our country could be as fortunate as I have been over the last three weeks, and I am truly blessed to have received this opportunity - thank you!  
Now that the three weeks have come to a close, I have returned to the office and community, and I'm excited to get back to work!  However, even though I was out of the office, Shaarei Kodesh was still very much a big part of our lives.  From giving our daughter her Hebrew name on the first Shabbat after she was born, to receiving gifts and meals from our loving community, to attending Shabbat services and learning from the excellent divrei torah delivered by our talented congregants, Nachson Carmi, Geil Bilu, and Ilene Prusher, to celebrating on Purim.  It was truly a magical three weeks.  
In this message, I'd like to focus on why this Purim was the best Purim ever for me personally.  Purim began with an excellent Purim Shpiel written by Rebecca Pontillo, directed by a Jason Rayman, and performed by adults and kids alike.  We continued the night by performing three great mitzvoth - reading the full Megillat Esther, read by Geil Bilu, Matt Weiss, Adina Tuchman, Lenny Berkowitz, and me; and giving gifts of food for the food insecure, Matanot L'Evyonim, through our Shake and Donate program (boxes of pasta used as groggers donated to the Jacobson Food Pantry at Jewish Family Services); and Mishloach Manot, giving gifts to one another through the Shaarei Kodesh Mishloach Manot program.  We had a great turn out of adult and children in costume, and the mood was electric.  At the end of our reading, we ate hamentashen and sweets and our kids led us in Purim songs!  
It was amazing to see our congregants bring their talents to the larger community!  The next morning, we had a smaller minyan for Purim morning, but we read our whole megillah once again.  The afternoon was truly special as we came together for yet another mitzvah:  Seudat Purim, the festive meal for Purim, but it was also the Simchat Bat of our daughter, Layla Eden/Lilah Chava.  We invited our friends, family, and congregation to the event, and I was amazed that we fit close to 200 people in our sanctuary (if not more).  But rather than feeling crowded, we felt embraced, as did so many in the room.  Toward the end of the ceremony, the sky opened up with pouring rain and severe lightning and thunder.  Those who might have left early were forced to stay.  It was almost as if Hashem was forcing us to be in Simcha as long as possible, until the end of the holiday.  It was a magical Purim that I will never forget. 
Its these moments in our lives that we hold with us, and its these moments when we thank God that we are surrounded not just by family and friends, but by a loving a caring Jewish community.  This is what it means to journey together on a path to holiness.  Purim was a microcosm of what it means to live a Jewish life - to be inspired by ritual and mitzvah; to act positively in the world through acts of tzedakah and tikkun olam, and to be surrounded by a loving and caring Jewish community. 
One of the highlights of the Simchat Bat and Purim Seudah was when we lit a Havdallah candle, asked the entire congregation to rise, and sang the famous words from Megillat Esther (8:16): La-ye-hu-dim hay-tah orah V'sim-cha v'sa-son vi-kar, Kein tih'-yeh lanu - For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy, and honor - so may it be for us."  We say this pasuk every Saturday night as part of the Havdallah ceremony, in fact, everyone present must recite this line out loud.  In our Siddurim, the translation is a little different:  Grant us the blessings of light, gladness, joy and honor, which the miracle of deliverance brought to our ancestors. Not only does it bring up the past, but it acts as a petition to God - let us have what our ancestors once had, light, gladness, joy and honor.  We must treasure these moments, and yet we know that we cannot bottle them up and save them.  However, with the help of God and a holy community, similar moments can be reproduced and cherished (so may it be for us).  
May we have many more days like this in our lives, and may we stand in gratitude to God through it all.  
Rabbi David Baum


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