Rabbi Yael Splansky
“The Power of Ritual”
January 22, 2021
Senator Jon Ossoff is sworn into office with his hand on a bible which belonged to civil rights activist, Rabbi Rothchild of The Temple in Atlanta. In his jacket pocket held copies of the manifests of the ships which brought his great grandparents from Europe. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
This week, while the world held its breath, we witnessed the transfer of power from President to President. There were visual cues: flags, lamps, colourful costumes. There were audible cues: brass and drums, predictable and unpredictable musical selections, and POETRY, oh the poetry. There was memory: of Past Presidents, of Biden’s son and Harris’ mother, of the 400, 000 American lives lost to Covid-19. And even with America’s commitment to separation of church and state, there were bibles for swearing upon, references from Psalms and Augustine, and plenty of “God bless America.”
All religious life knows the power of ritual. Ritual enables us to name the moment and sanctify it. Ritual signals when to grieve and when to celebrate. Through the power of ritual one’s status can be changed – from child to adult, from unmarried to married, from graduate student to authorized professional, from resident to citizen, from non-Jew to Jew.
What’s the difference between the pageantry of ritual and the performance of theatre? The power we give it. What’s the difference between the waters of the mikveh and the water of the swimming pool? The power we give it. What’s the difference between a mourner who wears the black ribbon and the one who doesn’t? The power we give it. What’s the difference between Cantor Rosen the day before the beautiful Installation Service last Shabbat and the day after? The power we give him. Ritual – especially communal ritual – is a power tool in the toolbox of the human experience.
If there is a milestone you wish to honour, a change you wish to acknowledge, a simcha you wish to celebrate, a loss you wish to commemorate, your Rabbis and Cantors can work with you to craft a ritual for the occasion. It may be private or with the family, in the home or in the sanctuary, simple or elaborate, spontaneous or planned. We are blessed with an impressive collection of sacred objects, sacred texts and melodies to create meaningful moments to lift the spirit, sanctify the passage of time, and affirm our place in God’s world. These rituals are yours for the taking.