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Sefer Bamidbar: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Laila Haas

This week, we open a new book of Torah, Sefer Bamidbar. The Parshah begins with God’s instruction to Moses, “Take a census of the whole congregation of Israel.” The Zohar, from the Kabbalistic tradition, teaches, “the final count of Israelites in the census — 603,550 — totals the number of letters in the Torah.”

This beautiful teaching came to life this week as I read about a Torah scroll being written letter by letter by family and friends of Israeli soldiers who’ve lost their lives in the war against Hamas. A man, whose son was killed in Gaza, sat down next to the sofer, the scribe; put his hand on the sofer’s arm, and added a letter to the scroll. With tears in his eyes, he said, “I feel as if my son is right here with me. This letter is a depiction of his soul.”

Each letter of Torah represents a soul. When the letters come together, they form words, and those words create sentences and when woven together they become our Torah, the sacred story of our people. It is a living and evolving story, born from moments in time, experiences shared by individuals and the collection of our people’s journey.

It is a privilege for me to join this incredible clergy team and become part of the Temple Beth El story. My husband Will, our son Asher, and myself, feel the Beth El love and are grateful for such a warm welcome to this vibrant community and temple family.

Growing up a “clergy kid”, my father served as Cantor of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach for over 25 years; the synagogue was my second home. I learned the beauty of Torah there and the impact that being in a sacred community has on your spirit. As a rabbi, I am passionate about designing meaningful Jewish experiences, bringing the wisdom of Jewish learning to life, sharing moments of joy and challenge, and engaging in rituals that uplift the soul.

My neshama, my soul, sings every time I step foot on the land of Israel. My internal compass points eastward. I draw spiritual energy when I think about the golden light of Jerusalem, the pulse of Tel Aviv, and the mystical winding alleyways of Safed. I am inspired by our Israeli brothers and sisters and feel a sense of deep connection to our Jewish homeland. My path to the rabbinate was paved along those ancient stones.

Having our son Asher, 3 years old, grow up at Temple is a true L’Dor VaDor experience. It brings us so much joy knowing how much he is already loving his time at the ELC’s summer camp, at the Beck Family Campus. We can’t wait to experience Tot Shabbats, family experiences throughout the year and more, with you and your families!

I am excited to get to know you, hear your stories and learn more about your Jewish journey. I am looking forward to the sacred work we will do, the moments of awe we will experience, the Jewish learning we will engage in and the rituals and traditions we will create and celebrate together.

Each letter of Torah is a depiction of a soul. As we grow together, experience precious moments and embark on new adventures, our letters will come together adding new chapters and verses to our congregation’s Torah, our living story.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Laila Haas

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