Separation and Connection

By Rabbi Jill Cozen Harel

At the end of Shabbat, we taste wine, smell sweet spices, see the glimmer of light from the havdalah candle shining on our fingernails, and then experience that moment of separation when we hear the fizzle of the havdalah candle as it extinguishes itself in the wine.

There’s something about that liminal space of havdalah that I love.  We separate the kodesh from the chol, the holy from the usual, and yet it’s not that simple.  It’s always my hope that I can bring some of Shabbat into the other six days of the week, whether that’s a nap, services, amazing  meals with friends, or relishing a quiet hour to read.  It’s easier to think about that transition as a  thick black line, but more often than not, it’s a dotted line.  We bring aspects of the rest of the week into Shabbat and we hope to take some of Shabbat into the coming week with us.  Perhaps it’s that intermingling that is the holiest.

Shabbat is often on my mind.  Either it just happened or it’s coming up.  This week, I caught myself saying  “Shabbat Shalom” to someone on Wednesday, which was arguably too early, but nonetheless brought both me and the person I was speaking with into a deeper awareness that Shabbat was indeed approaching.  On Friday, as I was saying goodbye to some colleagues, one of them nonchalantly said “Shabbat Shalom” to me and almost instantaneously, I replied “Shabbat Shalom.”  Then I heard another colleague say “good yuntif” and I stopped in my tracks.  Wait.  Was there a holiday coming up that I somehow missed?  Did I mishear him? 

I turned around. Gut Yuntif?  (Yiddish for ‘Good holiday’) “Yeah, Pride.”  Of course. Not necessarily a Jewish holiday in terms of our liturgical calendar but absolutely a San Francisco holiday and a time that’s marked in different ways by many Jewish communities as well.  “Right, sorry, it took me a minute.  I couldn’t think of the holiday that you were referring to but I didn’t have the right context.  Gut yuntif.  Oh, and chodesh tov!”  This past Thursday, we began the month of Tammuz.  Pride weekend as a Jewish holiday?  Definitely another one of those intermingling moments. It’s not the holy and the profane, but it is the Jewish and the secular.  He could have said “Happy Pride weekend,” which is definitely heard in the streets on San Francisco, but he didn’t.  By using Jewish rhetoric, he was transforming this weekend of acceptance and celebration into something that is wholly Jewish.  Language, for me, has that extra power.

The root of the word for holiness, kedushah, is kuf.daled.shin. It literally means separation, but I find that holiness also lies in tying together ideas or people that would otherwise be separate and finding the commonality between them.

That’s what happened in this little interchange.

Rosh Chodesh – the new month.  A few days ago, we transitioned from the month of Sivan to the month of Tammuz, each with its own holidays.  Each Rosh Chodesh, that marking of the new month, is also a check-in for me.  Where am I this month in comparison to where I was last month? What have I accomplished and what do I still hope to accomplish?  What new relationships have I cultivated?  What about last month do I hope to release and let go?  What beautiful parts of the last month would I like to carry with me?  Another in-between; another liminal moment.

And lastly, the transition from one parasha (weekly Torah portion) to the next.  Traditionally, we read the week’s parasha on Shabbat morning and then at Shabbat afternoon services, we read a preview of the following week’s parasha.  The transition from one week’s parasha to the next happens right there.  Shabbat afternoon.  So on Sunday, today, we have said goodbye to Korach and are looking at Chukat.  In parashat Chukat, both Miriam and Aaron die.  After Miriam dies, the Israelite community suddenly finds themselves without water.  Rashi, an 11th century commentator, explains that we learn from this that during the Israelites’ forty years in the desert, they had a well which followed them along their journey because of Miriam.  In that time of transition, not only did they need to cope with losing Miriam’s presence but they also had to address their new need for water.  Perhaps only then did they realize that the well which satiated them throughout these years was connected to Miriam.  In my current hospital chaplaincy work, I find that as a patient approaches the end of his or her life, that time is often wrought with grief, loss, and sadness, but also with new connections and realizations about the impact that each person had on one another.  Amidst the chaos of the hospital, there can bekedusha,holiness.  Holiness isn’t always joy;  it isn’t always easy.  But it is deep and true and connected.

May we find holiness in the transitional and liminal moments that we encounter this week.

Shavua tov.  Gut yontif.  Chag sameach.

Rabbi Jill Cozen Harel is a chaplain resident at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

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