From Rabbi Johanna Hershenson
Summer vacation is upon us. I hope everyone is taking advantage of school breaks, casual summer work schedules, longer sunnier days, and our proximity to so many accessible entry points to the beauty of the landscapes of the American west!
Jewish values don't go on holiday ... though, in honor of summer vacation, our Jewish value for reflection and action during the month of July is JOY and FUN! This is no joke. The Chasidim aren't the only Jewish intellectuals who contemplated joy and fun. The Lithuanian rabbinical establishment of the late 1700's and early 1800's, who created Mussar - the study and practice of integrating Jewish values into daily living, also had a great deal to say about the importance of cultivating joy in our lives here and now. Even the ancient rabbis demonstrated concern that we engage in activities that generate joy.
On Shabbat we are instructed to eat expensive meat and drink wine. We decorate our Sabbath table with candles and tablecloth, perhaps fresh-cut flowers. Chidur mitzvah is the rabbinic idiom for decorating the mitzvah, that is making it fun and pleasing to engage in the ritual with fancy candlesticks and finer dining than that with which we would indulge ourselves during the work week.
On Passover, even the poorest Jews are required to drink wine. It is the responsibility of the community to make sure even those who cannot afford to buy wine have just enough for four glasses per person on Passover's first evening. On the night we celebrate our redemption from Egypt, each and every one of us is called to feel the joy of a prince or princess who drinks wine like we might drink water.
During Purim, we are called upon to get drunk, so drunk we can no longer distinguish between Mordecai and Haman. Lately these commandments to drink to excess bother me when I think about those in our community whose sobriety I want to support on account of addictions that impair their quality of life. I should note that I don't believe the ritual is drunkenness for the sake of drunkenness, or even that actually engaging in libations are necessary. But rather, I think it is a call to let loose enough to laugh and have fun in the face of real life problems. On Purim we laugh at problems that should make us cry: antisemitism, corrupt governance, and patriarchal sexual objectification of women.
It is no joke to take having fun, cultivating and increasing joy, seriously as a Jewish value. It is my hope and prayer that everybody associated with our community has a summer filled with fleeting moments of pure joy for the miracle of life, for the strength and endurance so many exhibit in life. It is my hope and prayer that we appreciate the beauty of our landscape and find fun exploring its rivers, lakes, mountains and deserts along trails in and out of Central Oregon. Most of all, it is my hope and prayer that we all take advantage of lighter summer schedules and spend quality time with family and friends, deepening relationships with shared experience and memories of laughter and play.
Until the High Holy Days, Temple Beth Tikvah is here and hosting summer-time activities for the mind and celebrations of shabbat that reflect the season. Keep in touch!