What do we really want to hear about on Shabbat?
“One day a leopard came stalking into the synagogue, roaring and lashing its tail.
Three weeks later, it had become part of the liturgy” – Franz Kafka
One of the most difficult aspects of my rabbinate is coming up with topics to talk about on Shabbat. It is doubly difficult at Midbar Kodesh Temple where the tradition is to give a talk at both Friday night services and on Shabbat morning. Once I come up with the topic, I can usually find an interesting and intellectual way of presenting a lesson to the congregation, but coming up with new topics each week is not always easy.
Some of the tension I have each week is when something tragic or sad happens in our world. Do I want to interrupt the joy and beauty of Shabbat by discussing something depressing and uncomfortable? How do I balance the need to make people aware of an issue and share the Jewish perspective on the topic, with trying to maintain a sense of joyfulness that is supposed to be shabbat? Do we risk, as Kafka suggests in his leopard story, making the morose the normal?
This is not a new question. The rabbis dealt with this when they ordained that we not recite the El Maleh, the memorial prayer on Shabbat. There are some that even go so far as to say that we are not supposed to mention the recent deaths and shiva information for congregants on Shabbat from the bima, so as not to cause anyone any undo sadness.
I know that many people come to shul on Friday or Shabbat after a catastrophic event looking to the clergy for guidance and support. People often come hoping the rabbi will address the issue of the day/week. Should I impose sorrow on the congregation? Should I ignore what everyone is really thinking about?
I don’t have any great answers, but wonder what you think. What do you want to hear about on Shabbat?
This is a link to a recent article asking this very question.