Rabbi Mark Mandel and family were away over the weekend for a family reunion. Thanks to Jonathan Peyser of Teaneck, New Jersey for leading Shacharit and laining Torah. Saul Woythaler handled everything else. Saul probably felt like a one armed paper hanger trying to keep everything running smoothly. Things stayed on track and we finished at the usual time, about 11 o'clock.
The usual regulars were joined by the customary visitors including guests from New York, Newton, Massachusetts, and Reno, Nevada. The gentleman from Reno said it was dry there that even the low humidity today was noticeable. One couple were seasonal visitors, and hopefully will join us regularly when in town.
A friendly fellow from London got lost behind a column (It's easy to disappear behind a column at Touro!). Fortunately he was located and was sincerely pleased to have an Aliyah. He observed that although many synagogues in Europe were designed by Christian architects and look churchy, Touro was clearly designed to be a synagogue. Kudos to our architect, Peter Harrison, for his yiddishkeit!
Radiant with sunlight, the synagogue today elicited a joyous spiritual feeling.
Jonathan Peyser made a lovely short talk about the Parsha Emor, which I will attempt to describe. The Parsha starts with instructions to the Cohanim about the sacrificial system. Then, abruptly, the instructions are addressed to all the Children of Israel. אֵ֥לֶּה הֵ֖ם מוֹעֲדָֽי. "These are my festivals" which we are commanded to observe, the Sabbath and the festivals including Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkoth as well as Count the Omer.
Why address all of Israel? Only the priests could observe holidays by making sacrifices. But all of Israel are commanded to observe the holidays. Although the sacrificial system disappeared with the Temple's destruction, Israel's obligation to observe continues.
How do we observe? We pause from our daily activities, we wear special clothing, we eat special meals and foods such as challah and cholent, and we attend special Synagogue services as we are doing right now.
We are commanded to celebrate the festivals joyously. In ancient times that included dancing and pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Nowadays it includes Hallel, six psalms of praise (113–118), which we recite with joy and with song. Although we don't recite Hallel on Shabbat, during Pesukei dezimra a mini-hallel occurs when we recite Psalm 136, the Great Hallel. And our joy on Shabbat and Hagim includes celebrating together with family, friends, and the entire Jewish people.
May the joy of celebrating Shabbat in this beautiful sanctuary carry you through the week ahead. Shabbat Shalom!