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On July 22nd, the rain held off just long enough for us to get through our climate themed outdoor Friday Night Shabbat Service. Could it have been the work of our old friend Honi the Circle Maker? Listen on to Rabbi Deena’s drash to hear the deets — it starts at [34:34]. This episode is a lightly abbreviated version of our entire service, filled with singing and inspiration. If you’re looking a particular song or message, jump to the time code below.
[01:30] — “Today I Almost Killed A Friend’s Plant…” — (R’Steven)
[07:00] — Lechu Neranena L'Adonai — (ft. Davening Team)
[10:36] — Shiru L'Adonai — (Davening Team)
[12:47] — Mizmor L’David — (Davening Team)
[16:21] — Where Is God In This? — (R’Lizzi)
[22:05] — Lecha Dodi (Leonard Cohen) — (Davening Team)
[27:31] — Psalm 92 / Mah Gad Lu — (Davening Team)
[29:55] — Reflections On Our Israel Trip — (ft. R’Lizzi)
[32:31] — Hashkiveinu (Steven Chaitman) — (Davening Team)
[34:34] — Honi The Circle-Maker — (R’Deena)
[46:13] — We Rise (Batya Levine) — (Davening Team)
[49:01] — V'hashevota (Shir Yaakov) — (Davening Team)
[50:58] — Thank you, Jane Charney and Mark Achler!
[54:14] — Psalm 150 / Kol Haneshamah (Davening Team)
For upcoming Shabbat services and programs, check our event calendar, and see our Accessibility & Inclusion page for information about our venues. Follow us on Instagram and like us on Facebook for more updates.
Produced by Mishkan Chicago. Music composed, produced, and performed by Kalman Strauss.
Transcript of Drash
(Regarding the rain...) I was checking out if there were any kids spinning in circles on the playground, because the Talmud tells the story of a man known as Honi the Circle Maker. When his community was stricken by drought, the rabbi's of the community decreed a series of fasts, which was what they usually did when there was a drought. But it didn't work. So the people went to Honi, who was known to have a special relationship with God, and they said pony circle maker, which might just be Honi the circle because there's no vowels in Hebrew, this in honey circle, man, can you pray for us? And so Honi drew a circle in the dirt around himself, and he cried out to God, and he said, Master of the Universe, listen up. I am not moving from this circle until you make it rain. And immediately a drizzle began to fall. And Tony said, no, no, no, that's not what I meant. I meant a real rain and it began to pour, and it poured raindrops, the size of buckets, and it started flooding and the people had to go to high ground and they said, Honi, make it stop. And so honey calls out again, God, I also obviously didn't mean this kind of rain. I meant did good and a life sustaining rain in the right amount, and then it stops when we've had enough and immediately a wind blew and the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Sometimes when things are really dire, we need something more than our usual actions. We need a circle and a person who's willing to scream at God. Earlier this week, several dozen people including 17 Congress, people were arrested at an abortion rights protests near the supreme court in Washington DC where protesters have been gathering for weeks since the Roe vs. Wade decision was overturned. The House passed legislation this week to codify abortion rights in the United States. But it seems very unlikely that that law will pass the Senate. So these congress people and others put their bodies in a place that it wasn't supposed to be and said I'm not moving until the DC police moved them. So I'm not saying that we should all be going to get arrested all the time. Just that sometimes when it feels like we have reached a standstill, but we cannot live in that standstill. We might need to draw a circle around ourselves and say I'm not moving until something changes and it changes in a way that is good. For me this period of the Jewish calendar is the reminder of what happens to us when we don't do that. We're in the three weeks span between the 17th of Tamuz and T Shaba. Of the ninth of of it's in this three week period that the walls of Jerusalem were breached, the city was laid siege by the Romans and eventually on the ninth of of the temple was destroyed in the city burned. It's known this three week period as bein handmade serene, which means between the streets, as we remember the Jews who were trapped in Jerusalem, who were starving and dying, as they were squeezed by the Roman army on one side and the Jewish zealots who controlled Jerusalem. It was by all accounts an absolutely horrifying period. The book of Lamentations ha ha that we read on T Shaba. Of and the account of Flavius Josephus, a historian, talk about people being driven mad by starvation, eating their boots and their leather belts, eventually eating their own children. It talks of a river of blood running down the steps of the temple as people were slaughtered, bodies sliding over each other, and it talks of people being burned by fire set by the Zealots and the Romans as the city went down in flames. The zealots while they position themselves as the defenders of Jerusalem, were just as much the problem. They burned the grain stores of the city. Well, everyone was starving to try to force people to fight but all they did was exacerbate the famine. They fought between themselves so much that they fractured the people and they made themselves an easy target. When the Romans came, they killed babies alongside zealots and the elderly alongside the fighters because the Zealots had turned everyone into their enemy. And after this graphic description, this horrifying explanation of what it was like to be squeezed between the streets in Jerusalem to watch the city burn. The book of lamentation says, My life was bereft of peace. I forgot what happiness was.
This is the problem with living in a world that is burning down around you, you begin to forget what happiness looks like. As the smoke of this BURNING WORLD, clouds our vision and chokes us with fear. One response is to look to people that we trust people who we think might change things for us. It's notable that Honi was not a rabbi. He was not a leader. He was someone that the people trusted to have the ear of God, someone that they knew would stand up for them. His act of spiritual disobedience worked, not because he had political power, but because he had a relationship with God. And because he was willing to take a risk on behalf of his community and say we cannot live like this. But the thing about Honi is that he didn't solve the problem. He didn't understand or help the people understand why there was no rain, and he didn't help them figure out a reliable way to access rain beyond his own standing in a circle and screaming to the heavens. He responded in the moment to the immediate problem. During this period have been handmade Sarim as the Zealots and Romans squeezed the population out of any food and hope. One sage took a very different approach to the hony method. Robbie Yohanan ben Zakkai, who was a cousin of one of the zealot leaders, but not a supporter of their cause, put out the word that he was sick, and then had his people put out the word that he had died. And he got in a coffin along with a piece of rotten meat to make it smell like he had died. And he had his disciples carry him out of Jerusalem. He convinced they convinced he was pretending to be dead. His his supporters convinced the Zealots not to abuse his body out of respect. And he made it out of Jerusalem during the siege, and he made it in front of the Emperor Vespasian, who wasn't the Emperor quite yet. And he addressed him as emperor and espeasy and was like, I'm not the Emperor. And then someone walked up and said, Actually, you are the new emperor. And this Bayesian was very impressive Rob Yohanan, ben Zakkai, for apparently prophesying the immediate future. So this Bayesian says to Robbie open on memes aka What do you want? And Robbie Yohanan ben Zakkai says, Give me yagna and it's sages. I know Jerusalem is lost, the Zealots will never compromise. I can't convince you to give up this military campaign. All I ask is for yagna and its sages. spacey and agreed, and 40 miles north of Jerusalem in the shadow of its destruction. Robber Yohanan and the stages of yagna began begin began building Judaism as we know it today. Robbie Yohanan ben Zakkai took the opposite approach to hony he bails on a bad situation to start to build something new. The other Rabbi's of the Talmud ribbed him for this a little bit saying, Well, you know if he had the political capital to get in front of a speziellen, shouldn't he have asked that you know, Jerusalem not been destroyed or to save the people in it who weren't the zealots? But in classic comedic fashion, the sages respond to themselves here by saying he would never have been able to save Jerusalem or its inhabitants. So he did what was possible, and allow Judaism to reinvent itself and to survive. So, earlier this week, Rabbi Lizzi said to me, so should we be pone already? Yohanan? ben Zakkai? Like what's the point here? Yes, is the answer. Some of us are inclined towards honies path, willing to engage in civil disobedience and other actions of protests to protest an immediate problem to take action on something that is unlivable right now. Others of us are Yohanan, ben Zakkai, seeing potential in what doesn't exist yet willing to abandon something that is failing for the possibility of something that might succeed. There are of course, other approaches as well. But we're gonna go with two for tonight. There is a time for us to take a stand, to refuse to budge until something changes. And there is a time for us to say this is not working anymore. We need to move and we need to move on.
Our job is to figure out which of these roles we need to play in any given crisis. As climate change ravages our natural environment as our democracy is threatened. As our legal system is weaponized against our human rights, we have to decide should I be Honi? Should I stand my ground and demand that this change for the better? Or should I be reading Yohanan ben Zakkai, who is prepared to accept certain losses that would lead to longer long term gain larger long term gains, neither one of these solutions is perfect. Honi never solved the problem in the first place. And Robbie Yohanan ben Zakkai let most of his people die at the hands of the Romans. We will not figure out a perfect solution. We will spend more time between the streets, but we will, we believe emerge from them with the prospect of destruction behind us and the possibility for renewal laid out in front of us that is the journey of the High Holidays. It's really easy to feel like the streets never end. Like they just get tighter and tighter around us. And we need some of you to throw out your hands like Honi to say, I will not let my people be crushed in this so help me God. And we need others of you. Too, look for a way out and to take as many people with you as you can and to believe that different and better lies on the other side. We will emerge from this moment and we need you in whatever unique way you are called in order to do so. Shabbat Shalom