by Rabbi Benjamin Scolnic
Temple Beth Sholom in Hamden
What is ritual? Ritual provides a model of reality, showing how to interpret the world as is, as well as a model for reality, clarifying how life ideally should be. Ritual brings these two aspects—the "model of" and the "model for"—together.
Ritual is about order and sameness. There is comfort and security in knowing that ritual stays the same, no matter what. When things are down, ritual says, “Yes, this is how things are right now, but here is how things will be soon.” When things are bad and disrupted, that’s when ritual is most important. It is especially in those periods that we are “betwixt and between.” Rituals can be crucial when we are grieving and at a loss. If there ever was disruption in our lives, this is it. During this time when so many of our daily activities are changed, when our daily lives are different beyond recognition, we need regularity and sameness more.
We shouldn’t give in to the chaos. The rituals that are meaningful and give structure to our lives must continue to do so at this time. I know that many rabbis are changing the rituals during this time. I respect all of their decisions. But I disagree.
“I was down and then I saw you opening the Ark in the sanctuary for Alenu,” one person said to me. “During those days when I was cloistered inside, the only communication I had was with the Zoom minyans. Those services were the anchors of my days and nights,” said another.
So what is Temple Beth Sholom “doing” for the High Holidays? The same services we have always done. Of course the services will seem different as they will be Zoomed and streamed.
But the media medium is not the message; it just conveys the message. And that message is that Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Shabbat, Sukkot and every day are all times to engage in rituals that point the way to community and meaning in life.