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Ta Shema: January 7, 2022

Plagues and Trees are the themes this early January. In our weekly Torah portion, as well as outside on our front porch, plagues wreak havoc upon the world. Moses comes before Pharaoh and tells him that the way out of the plague is to “Let my people go.” However, we just like Moses know that the way out of the plague is not that simple. Both Biblical and modern

plagues require unity of heart and consistency of action to see it through to the other side.

If the plagues of the Bible were taking place in real time, Shevat is the plague of locusts. Having survived the fiery hail that left some shoots of vegetation, the Egyptians thought that not all hope had been lost. 

And then the locusts came and dashed their hopes.

Yet, this time of year is very hopeful.

Trees also make an important appearance in the Jewish calendar. We are approaching Tu BiShvat, the New Year for the trees. The almond tree is about to bloom in Israel. The almond tree symbolizes the hardy soul who, having survived the darkness of winter, sweetly blossoms anew. In the Bible, Moses uses his staff, which some commentators claim is made from almond wood, to both bring the plagues upon the Egyptians as well as ultimately split the sea and lead the Israelites to freedom.

Trees and Plagues represent the opposites of life that we experience this time of year and always. We see that they are more symbiotic than opposing forces.

This week we experienced a sudden and tragic loss in our community as Efraim Jaronowski lost his short battle with illness. As strange as it might sound to say, he was the almond tree of this congregation physically and spiritually. 

As one of the Saturday morning regulars, he was rooted in routine. You could depend on him to help with the Torah service and read Haftarah. He could also be depended upon to tell me exactly what he felt about my sermon and how it compared to previous sermons (all of which he had committed a portion of to memory). 

A spiritual task he undertook was the Yizkor book for Yom Kippur. It was his mission to make the Yizkor service as moving and accessible as possible. This avodat lev, service of the heart, helped to console countless mourners over the years. In the winter of their mourning, he helped them take a step towards healing and starting anew.

He will be buried in New Jersey this Sunday, and following internment, the custom is to celebrate life. When we share memories, I believe we share a spark of that person’s soul. In doing so, where the locusts came and ate the shoots, we planted a heart almond tree. Something that we can hold onto until some time has passed and, in the face of winter, flowers dare to bloom again.

May Efraim’s memory eternally be for a blessing and may his entire family be given strength, solace, and consolation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaya Bender

Sun, January 23 2022 21 Shevat 5782