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Posted on August 14, 2020
Simhah/Joy in Community
Parashat Re’eh 5780
Rabbi Miriam T. Spitzer
When someone has a joyous event, we say they are having a simhah. Last week when we took our Shabbat walk, we saw that a neighbor was having a simhah, an outdoor ufruf celebration of their son’s upcoming wedding. Later this month our Temple will celebrate a simhah; Alex Garber is having a Bar Mitzvah.
The word שמחה/simhah appears 7 times in parashat re’eh. (It appears 22 times in the book of Deuteronomy and only once each in the other four books of the Torah.) Each time the context is about celebrating together, the whole community together, everyone, regardless of social status or economic state.
Last year at this time, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote a d’var Torah about simhah. He said: “Simcha is usually translated as joy, rejoicing, gladness, happiness, pleasure, or delight. In fact, simcha has a nuance untranslatable into English. Joy, happiness, pleasure, and the like are all states of mind, emotions. They belong to the individual. We can feel them alone. Simcha, by contrast, is not a private emotion. It means happiness shared. It is a social state, a predicate of “we,” not “I.” There is no such thing as feeling simcha alone.”
I wonder how Rabbi Sacks is feeling when he rereads his words this year, in his house, physically distant from his community. And I ask on behalf of all of us: How are we to experience simhah, the joy of community when we are not gathering in person as a community? I don’t know what Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks would say, but I have three suggestions.
Let us begin by appreciating our virtual community. We are blessed that we have the technology not only to write to each other in real-time but to speak to each other and to see each other, even though we are in different places. Community does not only mean “mass of bodies gathered in the same physical location”. We daven together every morning as a community — if you have not yet tried that experience, give it a shot. We learn together. We care about each other. We share values, goals, and history. We may not be in person at the moment, but we very much are still a community.
Part of being part of a community is reaching out beyond ourselves. To feel connected, to feel a sense of simhah, we need to continue reaching out to others. Let’s keep making those phone calls to check on each other. Let’s think about a Temple service project we might be able to achieve. Let’s work on how we might help those who do not have access to Zoom or the internet also continue to feel part of our community and to not feel lost.
Finally, let us give ourselves permission to grieve for the in-person simhah we are not experiencing. These are hard times. It is okay to feel bad about it, to feel grief, to be sad. As long as we do not let it paralyze us.
We are planning to begin live streaming Shabbat morning services next Shabbat morning — just in time for us to celebrate together with Alex Garber and his family the week after. Watch for the live stream instructions. This coming Wednesday evening I will be teaching a class about Live Streaming on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
Rosh Hodesh Elul is next Thursday and Friday. From there it is exactly a month until Rosh HaShanah. Rosh HaShanah will be different to be sure — and it will have שמחה/simhah in our Temple Israel community.