On Thursday, Feb. 16, I led a day trip from the B’nai Shalom parking lot to the Discovery Museum in Times Square to see the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times exhibit.
The exhibit features many items never before displayed. Some of them date back nearly 3,000 years ago to the time of King Solomon; the youngest item in the exhibit dates from the Byzantine period, around 400 CE.
Anyone who has ever visited the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem can attest to the incredible sight of the ancient parchment scrolls on display.
They raise as many questions as answers. Amidst our Torah, psalms and prophets lie fanciful and varied documents. Some documents quote our tradition while straying far afield. Who wrote them? Why? How were they used? Are they personal devotional scrolls used prayer, as some scholars suggest? Could they have been for personal study? Are they something else entirely?
The answer to all these questions is surely “yes.” So many fragments, of such wide variety in style, age, and content clearly represent a broad spectrum of ideas, hopes and purposes. And like our Judaism today, the variations are endless. And yet, also like our Judaism today, they create a picture of core truths which are not to be denied.
Judaism is best defined as a people, our texts, and God – meeting in the Land of Israel for all time.
On the bus in to the city we studied Psalm 133, Isaiah 33 and Job 29 - some of the texts that are on display for public viewing. Once in the museum, we compared them to the sacred versions we use in synagogue today. The experience transcends the years between us and the compilers of the Dead Sea Library.
When we consider the enduring impact on Western civilization which the words of our Tanakh have had, we can not help but be touched by the devotion that inspired ancient scribes to preserve these words for others to read and know. We’ll marvel at the “non-Jewish” nature of many of them, and think about the legitimate limits of religious ideas. And we’ll sense the wonder at the deep love that subsequently stored them to last for the ages in a ceramic jar stashed in a cave high up on a cliff. We will explore how those words united our ancient ancestors even long before the scribe in Qumran wrote them down then. And, hopefully, we will come away with renewed appreciation for these immortal words, which have helped us survive the vagaries of historical homelessness for nearly two thousand years without the Land of Israel. Now that we have returned to our Land, we may also return to our Literature.
It is humbling to realize how much grandeur underlies these little scraps of parchment. It makes me wonder: What are the acts of devotion that we produce in our day that will similarly inspire our descendants two thousand years from now? Will it be the scholarship that we have produced? Will it be the beautiful artwork, or the inspiring literature? Will it be something intangible? While I do not have any absolute answers to my question, I doubt it will be any of the brick-and-mortar edifices that we have built. Ultimately the message of these little scrolls is that their values endure. May we be blessed to rise to the challenge they present to us.
Shabbat, Friday, Feb. 17
Torah Reading: Parashat Mishpatim: Shabbat Shekalim
Service Times are as follows
Friday, Candle lighting time: 5:07 p.m.
Evening Service: 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 18
Services begin: 9 a.m.
Shabbat Fun for children under 5 and their parents: 11 a.m.
Afternoon services: 5:05 p.m.
Sunday morning: 9 a.m.
Monday-Friday: 7a.m. (9 a.m. on national holidays)
Sunday – Thursday: 8 p.m.
Upcoming Events at B’nai Shalom
Sunday, Feb. 19 10 a.m. - The Journey of Bereavement – a support group led by JFS synagogue social worker, Wendy Sabin.
Thursday, Feb. 23 1:30 p.m. – Caregiver Group – support for those caring for loved ones or friends. Led by JFS synagogue social worker, Wendy Sabin
Monday, Feb. 27 – 8:30 p.m. – Judaism in the Koran- text study and discussion led by Rabbi Robert Tobin
Wed. Feb. 29 at 7:30 p.m. – Today’s Teens - parenting discussion with Wendy Sabin, based on the lessons in the book, The Blessing of a B Minus, by Wendy Mogel.
(also on Sunday, March 4 at 10 a.m.)
Purim Activities at B’nai Shalom
Wed. March 7 – 6:30 p.m. - Purim Carnival for families with young children-games, face painting, prizes, crafts, snacks for sale
7:15 p.m. – Costume Parade for everyone in the Gruhin Sanctuary
USY (United Synagogue Youth) will be selling Pasta graggers for tzedakah before the Megillah Reading
7:30 p.m. - Megillah Reading
Full Reading in the Lipka Chapel
Family Reading with children who have learned to read from the Megillah in the Gruhin Sanctuary. Prizes for all children who read a sentence.
Thursday, March 8 – 7 a.m. Megillah Reading at Morning minyan
5:30 p.m. - Purim Seudah- a festive dairy meal- $10/person. reservations required
6:45pm - Purim Spiel- The Megillah According to Broadway – performed by members of B’nai Shalom, musically directed by Seth Saltzman.