A father and daughter praying together wrapped in his tallit. Photo: Rabbi Sharon Sobel
At one of my recent “Meets and Greets” I was asked about antisemitism and security at TBS. Every day we’re seeing more allies standing up and speaking out against antisemitism, we’re seeing more task forces gather together to figure out how to combat racism, hatred and violence. In fact, the Reform Movement has dedicated this weekend to Gun Violence Education.
In our Torah portion this week, Vayishlach, we learn that one solution by itself will not be enough to combat any perceived threat. In Vayishlach, Jacob is going to meet his brother Esau after 20 years apart and Jacob fears that Esau still wants to kill him. So Jacob devises a three-part plan, a three-part strategy to overcome any obstacle Esau may present. (To learn more about this, join us for Torah study tomorrow morning either in person or via Zoom!)
One part of our solution to combating racism, antisemitism and violence is to create an inner and outer “sukkat shlomeicha – a shelter of peace” for ourselves, our community and those whom we love. We do that by building strong Jewish identities for ourselves and our children, by fostering engaging and thriving Jewish communities, by participating in interfaith dialogue, and in so many other ways.
We can also use a symbolic sukkat shlomeicha to remind us of this greater vision. On Erev Rosh Hashanah a few months ago, I shared the story of the special tallit that my sister-in-law Marilyn made for one of my birthdays.
A tallit literally represents the 613 mitzvot commandments in the Torah. On each of its four corners is a set of fringes. Each set of fringes is comprised of a specific number of threads, tied with a specific number of knots and one thread is wrapped around all of the others a specific number of times.
When we add together all of the threads, the knots and the wrappings from all four corners, they add up to 613. By putting on a tallit, we are symbolically taking upon ourselves the responsibility and obligation of the commandments.
There’s another purpose to a tallit, however. It acts as a “cocoon” and separates us from what is taking place around us. Having a tallit wrapped around our shoulders during a time of prayer and meditation can help keep us focused on our connection with God and community. It serves as our refuge – a sukkat shlomeicha – from the world outside.
My tallit story inspired others to share their tallit memories on the High Holy Days with us about their own tallitot as well, stories that were moving, poignant and so meaningful: Mark Thompson’s tallit gifted to him by TBS on his 13th anniversary here, Mitch Cohen’s tallit that he purchased in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1992, Mike Winston’s tallit that he bought for his grandfather in Israel and is once again his, now that his grandfather is no longer alive. Some of you phoned me to share special tallit memories as well.
The outpouring of stories I heard inspired me to launch our Temple Beth Sholom “Ufros Aleinu Sukkot Shlomeicha – Spread Over Us the Shelter of Your Peace” memory gathering project:
If you have a personal and meaningful memory involving a tallit, I invite you to write it up, and send it to me by Tuesday, January 17th, following the parameters outlined below. We will reproduce these stories in a booklet and give them to all congregants during our Artist and Scholar-in-Residence Weekend February 3-5, 2023 with Daniel Abramson. Daniel is an educator, artist, environmentalist. We’ll be learning with him, creating an oversize painting-on-silk TBS tallit to be used for community events, and celebrating Tu B’shvat with our community-wide Tu B’shvat Festival on Sunday, February 5th, beginning at 9 am. (Stay tuned for details!)
Details for written submissions for “Ufros Aleinu Sukkot Shlomeicha – Spread Over Us the Shelter of Your Peace” – Personal Tallit Memories:
- All submissions must be submitted via Word format, or in the body of an email (any other format will not be accepted).
- Submission must include your full name, mobile number, and email address. Please indicate whether or not you give permission to publish your name with your submission.
- Submissions should please be a maximum of 400 words and should be proof-read for spelling and grammar corrections. (Please understand that submissions may be edited for brevity, clarity and/or grammar).
- Photos in jpg format are welcome (but not necessary)!
- Submissions can also take the form of a poem, a drawing or a photo with a paragraph explaining its significance.
- All submissions must involve the theme of “tallit,” and should be your own true memories (ie, we’re not looking for fiction at this time).
- All submissions should be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday, January 17th. Submissions received after this date may not be included. (If you do not receive a reply that your submission was received, please call Rabbi Sobel to see if she received it.The following poem is by the late Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai. It depicts some of the symbolism, feelings and emotions captured by our memories of the tallit.
A Tallit Poem, by Yehuda Amichai
Whoever put on a tallis when he was young will never forget:
taking it out of the soft velvet bag, opening the folded shawl,
spreading it out, kissing the length of the neckband
(embroidered or trimmed in gold).
Then swinging it in a great swoop overhead like a sky,
a wedding canopy, a parachute.
And then winding it around his head as in Hide-and-Seek,
wrapping his whole body in it, close and slow,
snuggling into it like the cocoon of a butterfly,
then opening would-be wings to fly.
And why is the tallis striped and not checkered
black and white like a chessboard?
Because squares are finite and hopeless.
Stripes come from infinity and to infinity they go
like airport runways where angels land and take off.
Whoever has put on a tallis will never forget.
When he comes out of a swimming pool or the sea,
he wraps himself in a large towel, spreads it out again
over his head, and again snuggles into it close and slow,
still shivering a little, and he laughs and blesses.
Open Closed Open: Poems, trans. by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld
(New York: Harcourt, 2000), p. 44
May we all come to know the peace, serenity and tranquility that comes from being wrapped in the cocoon of a Sukkat Shlomeicha – a shelter of peace at all times.
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom