Torah in the Time of Coronavirus
Do We Smell Good?
This week's Torah portion, Vayikra, comprises the first 5 chapters of the Book of Leviticus, [also Vayikra].  The parshah is devoted almost entirely to an outline of the various types of offerings that were to be practiced in the desert Tabernacle and, implicitly, the Jerusalem Temple.  The expressed purpose of these offerings was a Rei-ach Nicho-ach, a pleasing or calming smell,  produced from a combination of meat, grain, incense and wood-smoke. [The operative phrase , Rei-ach Nicho-ach, is found 8 times in the parshah.] The Torah pictures God as being moved by the Rei-ach Nicho-ach to look with favor on the Children of Israel. This portrayal is most explicit at the end of the flood story. Noah, having survived the deluge with his family, shows his gratitude by building an altar and sacrificing appropriate animals that had been transported on the Ark.  The text then relates, "God smelled the Rei-ach Nicho-ach and thought, 'Never again will I doom the earth...or thus attack all living beings.' "  The concept of Rei-ach Nicho-ach  as our connection to God is quite resonant, given our modern awareness of the olfactory sense's power to evoke memory and alter mood.  

The question is -- how is the Rei-ach Nicho-ach generated and the covenantal bond sustained when sacrifices are no longer part of our ritual life. A compelling solution can be found in a Dead Sea Scroll (1QS 3) titled "Community Rule," a seeming mission statement for the Jewish group calling themselves the "Yachad," who lived by the Dead Sea at the end of the 2nd Temple period.  They envisioned their commitment to the collective and their behavior and core values as presenting a Rei-ach Nicho-ach to God.  This notion piqued my curiosity -- How would we behave if our ethics and actions generated a smell -- if we were our best selves, we would emit a pleasing perfume, and if we betrayed our core values, we would have a repellent odor...?

It is axiomatic that our true character comes to the fore during a crisis.  Over the last few weeks, in my capacity as head of Synagogue Council of MA, I have connected and collaborated with Jewish professionals, colleagues from the Christian and Muslim communities, Synagogue leaders across the state, and officials from the Boston Mayor's office and the Governor's administration.  In every instance, I have witnessed an abundance of commitment, energy, creativity, empathy, and compassion -- a stunning example of collectiv e Rei-ach Nicho-ach.

As we step into the month of Nisan, let us all continue be our best selves -- living breathing embodiments of Rei-ach Nicho-ach.

Shabbat Shalom


David Bernat -- on behalf of SCM's staff and volunteer leadership

Gretchen Marks Brandt, Associate Director
Emma Savitz, Office Administrator

Elizabeth Pressman, Craig Schneider, Co-Presidents

What's Next? 
Next week, look out for website updates, a report on synagogue life state-wide, a calendar of Synagogue Council programs and community events, and Passover resources.

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